John Grant – The Octagon, Sheffield

Friday 2nd November, 2018

You know how I love John Grant. You know how I love Sheffield. Those 2 things combined? As if I was going to say no!

There was time for a gluten free chinese meal (oh yes, Sheffield, thank you from a very full coeliac) with Andrew off Twitter. He’s one of the people I’ve come to know through Mary Anne Hobbs’ weekend breakfast show on BBC6 Music and it was lovely to meet him and his daughter before the gig.

The Octagon is another odd place. Part of the University of Sheffield, a 1980’s 8 sided building made of concrete and stone. It felt smaller than the Forum, but the capacity is roughly the same. It had a nightclub vibe and was darker, lower and smaller lending the air of a more intimate feel. Tom had sensibly chosen the option of seats and we lucked out in being seated 3 rows up behind the sound desk so we had a great view and sound.

I enjoyed Two Medicine’s support set again, although the crowd weren’t as polite and the general hum of chatter meant I couldn’t hear them as well as I had the night before. Their album has just come out so maybe add it to your list of purchases? If you like dreamy synth pop (who doesn’t?) then they are worth a listen.

John took to the stage brimming with confidence and joie de vivre and instantly any tension I’d been carrying melted away. The set was roughly the same as the night before, but by being closer to the stage in a smaller venue it felt like an entirely different gig. The stage was smaller and some of the lighting and screens hadn’t made the journey to Sheffield, we were all a lot closer together. It was hot, even at the back in the relative comfort of the seats. I know venues like to keep you hot so you drink more and they make more money, but it is an access and a safety issue to not provide air conditioning. That grumble aside, this was a fantastic gig. John’s vocals were stronger and better mixed, allowing his gorgeous honeyed tones to really reach where they should. And those witty, brilliant lyrics could get the showcase they deserved.

John is a big bear of a man, with a voice to match, low and powerful. You feel safe in his voice, like being wrapped in an aural embrace. I choked up early than expected with It Doesn’t Matter To Him and Is He Strange? and the emotional flow felt a lot more steady this evening, despite there only being one change to the set list as Glacier was moved later into the set.

Time was melting away remarkably fast and what had been a full set felt like only a few songs. As we started to approach the end of the main set John bought out a special guest “my very good friend, Mr Richard Hawley” oh my gosh I thought I would burst. I adore Richard Hawley as much as I do John Grant and I knew the song he had bought him out to play on was Glacier. A song that melts me, creates rivers of tears and lifts me back out of the valley with it’s beauty and love. With Hawley on his red Gretsch. It was perfection. Richard stayed on for Queen of Denmark, adding riffs and licks and enhancing it. He took songs that were already slices of musical heaven and lifted them to another plain. It was magnificent.

Diet Gum found a place in the encore in all it’s bitter, angry brilliance, more of those hilarious and searingly honest lyrics. I love this track and it was ace to hear it live. With added Hawley. Oh yes.

It had been a somewhat emotional return to Sheffield for me (I really do love the place) and the venue (new to me) with all it’s heat, darkness, strange shape and busyness had thrown me. The music, the superb musicians backing John, and his safe pair of hands voice, were what I needed. I wept, I laughed, I soared and I sang (silently, I’m not a monster) and I embraced what this music means to me. It is belonging. It is being embraced and held and made to feel not alone. I love you, John Grant. Thank you for the music. You are, like Sheffield, a magnificent bastard.





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