‘THE Manchester band for this generation’

That was how Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham recently labelled The Courteeners at his Raise the Roof charity gig in Stretford last month.

And the Middleton-based band illustrated that again with a huge homecoming gig at Heaton Park in front of 50,000 adoring fans on Saturday.

After a week of events that began with Manchester music icon Noel Gallagher and was followed by a sodden two days of Parklife, the famous park was hardly looking its best.

But all the afternoon showers were blown away as James warmed up the masses with iconic classics like ‘Sit Down’ and ‘Sometimes’.

It is a sign of how far The Courteeners have come that they are the headliners ahead of James on this night.

The crowd were frenzied even before lead man Liam Fray swaggered onto the stage as Oasis anthem What’s the Story (Morning Glory) heralded their arrival – as did a rainbow-coloured sky thanks to a plethora of smoke flares.

And the chaos kicked in when the opening bars of the classic ‘Are You in Love With a Notion?’ started proceedings with a bang as beer bottles and ticker tape filled the air.

The last time Liam and Co graced the Heaton Park stage in 2015, the frontman declared: “I’ve waited 10 years for this.”

Four years on and while the hairstyle is more bleached blond these days, Fray’s superb vocals delighted a crowd twice as big.

In his first interaction with the sea of poncho-clad punters, Fray proclaims ‘we are in Middleton’ – the band from just around the corner who used to play pitch and putt at Heaton Park as youngsters.

Now, in perfect pitch, they put on a show every bit as notable as any of the iconic Stone Roses or Oasis gigs from Manchester’s past.

A set list of classics like ‘Take Over the World’ and ‘Bide your Time’ with a sprinkling of tracks from the forthcoming new album – a sixth for the band who admit the start to their year has been a difficult one.

If anything could blow those cobwebs away then this latest successful homecoming was just the ticket.

As the 90-minute blast nears its end with the anthem that is ‘Not Nineteen Forever’, Fray announced: “It makes my heart swell to see so many people here for the same reason.”

That reason was to party like Fray admits wasn’t possible in their last big Manchester gig at the Emirates Old Trafford in 2017 – just five days after the Arena attack that numbed the city’s musicgoers.

They, and 50,000 fans, made up for that big time at the weekend as the mud-filled masses reminded everyone how popular The Courteeners and their guitar anthems are with the modern-day 24-hour party people.

The Manchester band for this generation? Definitely, maybe.

Roll on album six.