I was excited but a little apprehensive about this show, as I had seen Tarja, on numerous occasions, with the colossus giants that are Nightwish, but never alone. So, whilst I was excited to see her, now that she has branched out, I was dubious, as I didn’t want the evening to taint my memories of the past. As I approached the venue, I could see a small, but soul destroying, orderly queue. While I was stood there admiring the vast amount of band shirts, which seemed to span the entire symphonic metal genre, each and every one of them were obviously being worn with massive amounts of pride, I heard a member of the queue call one of the touts over and agree a £2 price for a spare ticket which the guy had grasped in his leather gloved hand. “Absolutely outrageous,” I muttered to myself, that he was even offered a couple of quid, let alone the guy accept it and hand over the ticket

The room was about half full with just 10 minutes to go until My Own Ghost were due on. Eventually the lights dimmed, and they hit the stage, having obviously given some consideration to their stage image, all appearing in what looked like matching leathers, all except the drummer, who would have melted away if he was trussed up, considering the unrelenting effort he put in for his shift behind the modest drum kit. He sat on his perch and banged his way through the entire set with vitality and eagerness, yet expelled an air of grace which made his drumming look effortless from start to finish.

The 2 guitarists spent the whole set criss-crossing the stage while the one who seemed to favour my side of the stage, constantly pulled off clichéd rock star poses, with his guitar looking more like an accessory rather than a musical instrument. The band really hit their stride by the time the mid set point arrived, and they decided to draw on their first release ‘Crystal Ball’, off their debut album, ‘Love Kills’ to keep the momentum going. They seemed like they loved every minute of their time in Manchester and actually looked to own the modest stage.

Even with English not being the bands native tongue, the lead singer, Julie, attempted on a couple of occasions to interact with the crowd, eventually getting a somewhat half-hearted response from the ever increasing masses. She even managed to let us know that their second official release is imminent and that they are honoured to be opening for Tarja, as if you wouldn’t be!

While they don’t have long on stage, My Own Ghost chose to omit their 2nd single, but then I suppose you do have to be a little picky when time is of the essence. My Own Ghost kicked into the set closer ‘Intoxicated’ and looked suitably pleased with themselves. As the last notes faded away, they stood onstage, embraced in each other’s arms, for the ceremonial bow and clap, which is getting to be the norm these days While they have already toured the UK with a string of 7 dates previously, as well as supporting Delain and Loudness on their respective tours, I don’t think it will be long before this bunch of Luxembourgers grace our shores again, either supporting another major influence, or on their own merits.

After what seemed like an eternity, the lights dimmed again and an orchestral sounding, symphonic intro kicked in, shaking the very walls that I was propped up against, signalling only one thing, the queen of symphonic metal was about to take to the stage. First on, the band with no name, who are the musical scaffolding surrounding one of the most powerful voices in metal, and a woman so charismatic, it’s hard not to fall under her charm. Then Tarja strode out, dressed in black with feathers adorning her torso, and strategically placed to give maximum effect and dignity. Then she filled her lungs, opened her mouth, and wow, that voice just hit you and transported you to another dimension.

From where I was stood, the opener ‘Demons In You’ sounded a little confused with the mix, and Tarja didn’t seem to be in unison with the band. But then by the time 500 letters kicked in, everything was in perfect harmony, and the crowd, packed from front to back, and side to side, loved every note and word that was emanating from the stage.

Another 5 songs passed and it was time for Tarja to give her voice a break and let the lads on stage entertain the crowd with a little jam. Tarja then reappeared after an obvious costume change (how she was balancing in those heels she was now sporting, let alone jump up and down so enthusiastically, is beyond me) and launched into a Nightwish medley which opened with one of my personal favourites ‘Everdream’. This seemed to get the biggest cheer of the night, and it was obvious that every single person in the building loved it.

Then, totally out of the blue, Tarja announced that she likes to feel the music and feel the crowd, so they brought out the stools, along with the cellist teetering on the edge of the stage and the drummer sitting astride a drum box. They then proceeded to strip back some of Tarja’s back catalogue and turn them on their head into truly mesmerising acoustic versions, putting a very unexpected, yet spectacular, twist to the well-known tunes which we have grown to love.

Tarja et al then decided to finish this little ensemble with another one of my favourites, and it seemed a real fan favourite, with the poignant, yet obvious, nod to the infamous departure from Nightwish ‘I Walk Alone’. Then it was back to the electrics, and it seemed that they turned the volume up a notch, along with the energy that every single band member was putting in, as they rounded off the evening with an absolutely blinding last few songs. The crowd were lapping it up by the end of the evening and Tarja was obviously the maestro, with the crowd playing as her orchestra.

The set list tonight was weighted very heavily towards the new album, playing a total of 9 songs from it. I know that she is touring on the back of the release, but I do think that 9 might be a little too much, especially if there were people who aren’t too familiar with the material. This then led me to be a little disappointed that she only plays a total of 2 songs from her 1st and 2nd albums ‘Die Alive’ and ‘Last Breath’ respectively.

She is indeed a shining star in the metal universe, and why it has taken me so long to catch her live, I’ll never know. I wasn’t sure if she would live up to my expectations, since she has always blown me away when I’ve seen her with Nightwish, including my personal favourite, at the infamous Bradford Rios in 2004, but I can honestly say, along with a couple of thousand friends, who were packed into the Academy 2 that evening, that this won’t be the last time I’ll witness this sensational event.

(Review and photos Phil Pountney)