Amanda Palmer – St David’s Hall, Cardiff

Saturday 19th October, 2019

I went to St David’s Hall for the first time not long ago and whilst I was there I had a look at the upcoming programme of events and saw that Amanda Palmer was playing. It was on an evening I had no other gig planned (unusual at this time of the year) and so I took a chance and booked a ticket.

Then I realised the gap in my schedule had been left to meet up with friends who live in Weston Super Mare and thought oh well I’ll just spend a lot of time on trains that day. Then it transpired that there were rail replacement buses between Bristol and Cardiff so I would have less time with my friends. Then I discovered that Amanda Palmer’s show would be over 3 hours long and that the last ‘train’ was just before 11pm and coach not much later. All in all, it felt very much like I shouldn’t be going to this one!

I have heard of Amanda Palmer, through feminist twitter and sci fi twitter (she is married to Neil Gaimon) but had not heard her music. My reason for going was that I am trying this year to support more female musicians plus a huge dollop of curiosity. Some of the best gigs I’ve been to have been ones where I’ve not known the music beforehand; if you never try anything new you never find new things to love. I was hoping the shock of the new would shake me out of this gig funk I’ve found myself in.

Despite all of the ridiculous journeying, and arriving in Cardiff a lot earlier than I needed to, I was almost late into the gig itself. I had porridge for dinner as that was all this coeliac could find to grab quickly in a coffee shop near St David’s. I met up with a writer I had met at the Breakthrough festival earlier in the year, which was a nice surprise.

There was no support, and Amanda came out promptly at 7.45pm. She began at the back of the stalls, strumming her uke and singing without a mic, like a wandering minstrel of old. She incorporated straddling up onto the stage with beats in the song, adding humour and I thought I’m going to like this woman.

If you like Amanda Palmer, I get the impression, you really, really like her, the level of applause she got for simply being was remarkable. The following seemed quite devoted and if I am honest this was putting me off. Anything that is loved with such zeal and intensity runs the risk of messianicness. I find that dangerous and excluding. This is not Amanda’s fault, and I am sure that many of her fans are smashing people (quite possibly people like me from the fringes and edges of society). The problem with any group, even one made up of people rejected from other groups, is that they tend to be quite closed. I’ve never been part of a group, a gang, a tribe or a gathering, heck I’m not even part of a family anymore, I’m nervous of anything that involves a congregation for that reason. Especially ones that are unquestioning in their devotion. And yes I am aware of the hypocrisy which you could accuse me of at this point. I may be an enthusiast and a fan, but I am not a slavish follower of any band or artist. There are Starsailor songs I’m not all that keen on, I’m not a fan of James Walsh’s solo material, I don’t like the new Elbow album, Madonna has had some very dodgy moments. Artists are as human as the rest of us and not everything they do resonates.

Amanda is an incredible storyteller, full of wit, dark humour and strange twists. I imagine she is a superb writer (beyond lyrics I mean). The tales told between songs, interwoven and expanding the meaning of the music, were wonderful. They contained a level of truth, rawness and funny that engaged me. The songs, sadly, did that less so. Partly that was because I couldn’t always hear the lyrics clearly and partly because Amanda’s voice wasn’t one that worked for me. That is just a subjective opinion.

The lighting also did not help. I was sat right at the back of the tier above the stalls. Everything in darkness apart from Amanda at the piano in a spotlight was straining and quite difficult to focus on for that length of time. It wasn’t helped by the sound desk being in my line of sight and being lit bright enough to be seen from space. I know the sound person has to be able to see in order to work, but if they are in the eyeline of the audience could some sort of screening be deployed? The seats were small and uncomfortable and put me in a position where the nerve problems I have with my arm and hand were made worse.

St David’s was opened in 1979 and it shows. It is in huge need of modernisation (where were the lifts?) and refresh. The decor in parts reminded me of the working class clubs/pubs/halls we went to for parties as a child!  Velour and concrete. Mmmmmm.

Amanda had been playing for one hour forty five minutes before we broke for the interval and despite all I’ve said above, that time had flown, she really is a terrific raconteur and the final song before the interval was as comic as it was tragic. A long, sprawling, journey through guilt, sadness and remorse, all I can say is At Least The Baby Didn’t Die.

I looked at the time we were due back in after the interval, 9.45pm and then at the times of the last transport home. Shit, I am never going to make the whole of this show I thought. I considered leaving there and then, hesitated and snuck back in and stood on the stairs watching the beginning of the second half. My seat was in the middle of a row and I wasn’t prepared to disturb people so I hung out of eyeline of the stewards and watched for a little while before leaving in the middle of a song (which I hate doing) to catch the rail replacement bus back home.

I am usually a weeper. I cry at the drop of a hat about almost anything and usually I don’t consider it a good gig unless I’ve had a little cry somewhere. Music is the key that unlocks and explains emotions to me and for me. Amanda Palmer deals in emotional things; abortion, terrorism, compassion, terminal illness, child abuse and the abusive way boys and men treat women and girls. All of which should have tugged at my tear ducts. Everyone else there seemed to be needing a tissue, I mean the merchandise included an Amanda Palmer hanky, it was that sort of a gig. Yet, my eyes remained dry. It even took me a while to laugh along with the bone dry humour. I am just not feeling anything of late. It isn’t a depression, that, for me, is an excess of negative emotion, and right now I’m feeling empty of all emotions. For someone who is used to living life with extremes of emotions in all directions, this mehness is very confusing (in an intellectually, removed confusion, not an emotional one).

I do know that, Amanda, it wasn’t you, its me. I admire your bravery and honesty and it is fucking fantastic to see and hear a woman being so candid about aspects of women’s lives that we bury. When you said that you had kept your first abortion secret, but not your second and that everyone had a story to share when you shared yours, that was powerful. It made me reflect that, although statistically I must know women who have had terminations, I don’t actually know any. I’ve not had one myself, I’ve never been in the position to make that choice. My one and only pregnancy was planned, wanted and there were no complications with it.  If circumstances had been different I would have wanted all the options and choices available and I will always support any other woman’s right to choose what happens to her body. Women should not be shamed into silence about their reproductive rights. And I will also think about that young girl and all the others like her.

Music, live music, has been my lifeline and without it I am a bit lost. This gig didn’t help me find my way back home. One will, soon, I hope.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Lubomyr Melnyk – St George’s, Bristol

Thursday 10th October, 2019

When I started writing, as part of 40 gigs, I used to open my laptop as soon as I got in from a gig to capture everything as quickly as possible. As time ticked by and I wrote more and more (there are over 200 entries on this blog now) and I went to an increasing number of gigs the pace at which I write has slowed. There are still gigs I am desperate to write about, of course, times when words come tumbling out like a stream. Then there are others where I need time to contemplate and ruminate on before the words will come. And then there are gigs like this one where the words just will not appear. Hence it taking 5 days to even start.

I had this gig on my radar, on the planning list for autumn (there are paper lists and a spreadsheet, I have to be organised with the sheer number I attend) for a while. I was planning to wait for the culture flash sale. Then I heard Lubomyr on Radio 3’s Late Junction and I thought to myself, I had better get a ticket for this guy, he’s really good.

The past week or so has been a really strange time for me emotionally. Lots of random, irrational crying. The change of seasons, the loss of light, the increase in rain, the loss of love, all weighing on me. Music has always been my release, my light, my key. And in David McAlmont the night before that had been so very true and I had a wonderful evening. I needed and expected something special from Lubomyr and I guess I was left feeling disappointed when I didn’t get it.

I cannot fault his technical skill as a pianist – his repetition and crescendo building, note after note endlessly crashing into and over each other, his hands flying at bewildering speed across the keys, was something to behold. But it did not land emotionally with me. I expected to be carried away on a beautiful cloud of music (the music doesn’t have to be happy in subject for this by the way). Instead I found myself wondering when it would end.

Partly this was influenced by Lubomyr being, to put it politely, eccentric. To be anti-science and evidence is a problem to me; it may not be perfect but scientific rigour is about the best we have. To dismiss sound waves as baloney when you are a musician? Just confusing. His insistence on moving his piano 3 feet closer, against the skill, experience and acoustic knowledge of the venue staff (St George’s know their stuff) was arrogant and annoying. It made zero difference to anyone but Lubomyr. Strange I can deal with, challenging I can deal with, but this was something I found uncomfortable.

The music itself was good and there is nothing wrong with good. I wanted and needed spectacular, incredible, to be moved to another realm of consciousness. Was I asking too much? I’ve been lucky enough to hear some amazing and transformative pianists play. I’ve been taken on journeys into other realms. I’ve had music move my soul.

There are so many factors that influence a gig experience, many of which are impossible to pin down. Sometimes the music can be amazing and yet I still leave feeling miserable. Perhaps it was my general malaise, perhaps other factors were at play, whatever it was this wasn’t a vintage gig experience. I’ve had other gig funks before. With a packed week of events, Festival of Ideas talks, live music, theatre, political panels and poetry events ahead I hope this one doesn’t last too long.

Part of the reason I continue to write is to help me process. There is something in the act of typing words that helps my brain to make sense of the experience. It focuses and distils and enables my jumbled wires to connect. There is a stillness to writing that helps me. Perhaps putting off writing about this gig was about running away from my own emotions and admitting that things are hard for me right now.

What I know is that I am glad that Lubomyr Melnyk played in Bristol and that he has developed a style of playing that it his own. I also know that I wasn’t the intended audience for it last week. His music and me weren’t compatible on that evening, in that time and in that place.

David McAlmont presents Billie Holiday at Carnegie Hall – St George’s, Bristol

Wednesday 9th October, 2019

A man with an incredible voice paying homage to one of the finest jazz and blues singers of all time at St George’s, the venue with the best acoustics in the City, of course you were going to find me in the front row of this one.

I had been intrigued by this concert since I read about it in the St George’s programme and put it on my autumn gig list and waited, patiently hoping decent seats would still be available by the time the Bristol Culture Flash Sale appeared (a bi-annual sale whereby many of Bristol’s cultural institutions sell tickets for selected events at discounted rates). My patience was rewarded and a good seat became mine for all of £14.40. Bargain.

You will know David McAlmont’s voice even if you don’t know his name, a serial collaborator, he has worked across genres with some of the greats (Bernard Butler, Michael Nyman and David Arnold among them).If you don’t know Billie Holiday then please go find some of her music and listen. Now.

This show was conceived by David with Alex Webb as an homage to Billie’s wonderful talent. An attempt to redress the balance and remember her voice and musicianship above all else. Drawing inspiration from a concert she gave at Carnegie Hall in November 1956, where readings from her biography were given along with the music, David and Alex conjured up a words and music event that is not a tribute show, but a love letter from musicians who adored her.

Before the concert David and Alex had an in conversation event. These can prove enlightening and are precious, given how performers need the time before a show to compose. I am really glad I went along, hearing them talk about the reasons for putting the show together, what they thought of Billie’s legacy, how the music industry has changed and delving a little deeper was interesting and helped my understanding of what was to come.

We were treated, and I really do mean treated, to a wonderful concert. Expert jazz musicians on drums, bass, sax, trumpet and piano supporting David’s fantastic vocals. This was not an impersonation. It wasn’t a tribute act. It was a loving and tender homage to one of the greatest singers of all time. David had studied his Billie, that is for sure, the notes he chose to include and leave out, the phrasing, the style were all influenced by Billie but they were not a carbon copy, they were his own superb take. His voice soared and flew, pouring controlled emotion into every note. It was a pleasure to simply sit in wonder and breath it all in.

Between the songs David talked; stories of his own life, Billie’s life and that one extraordinary concert. The introduction to I Cover The Waterfront, talking about the rivers of Billie’s life, of David’s life, of how rivers are meeting points, of bridges and bodies of water as places walked late at night, was perfection. As was the song that followed. I cried rivers of tears listening. Some pieces of music, some songs, simply dig right to the heart of you and expose all the emotions you are trying to hide, bringing them flooding to the surface, tears crashing out of your eyes like waves. For that alone this was a very special experience. Add the other dozen plus tracks and it was heaven.

David was a real showman, expressive and fluid and I could listen to him sing all day and all night. Everyone on the stage was superb, not a note out of place, nor a superfluous one either. I am still rather new to the world of jazz, but I know damn good playing when I hear it. Talent shines.

I give standing ovations about as rarely as Craig Revel-Horwood gives 10’s on Strictly Come Dancing. I was on my feet applauding at the end of this show. How could I not be? It was wonderful, pure and simple.

If you had told the 18 year old me, drunkenly and defiantly singing along to Yes by McAlmont and Butler (a song I will always treasure for speaking to and of all those of us who sit outside of the mainstream and gave and still gives me hope that things can and will be better) that 24 years into the future I would have heard that voice live, singing fine jazz, and more than that, that I would be telling David McAlmont after the gig how wonderful he was and how be bought me to tears, well I am certain I wouldn’t have believed you.

Tonight was a milestone. It was my 80th gig of 2019. That crosses a threshold, as last year I went to 79 in total. Everything from here on in is uncharted waters. So was jazz for me two years ago. So were so many things. The wells of strength I have mined to be here now. To be myself. I couldn’t have done it without music. Without people like David McAlmont. So, thank you. Thank you for a magnificent and special evening that I will treasure. If I was home tonight I would spend the time drinking whisky and listening to Billie Holiday.  As it is I am off back to st George’s to hear more music. But I will raise a glass to Billie, Alex, David and the wonderful band over the weekend. Thank you.

 

The LaFontaines -The Old England, Bristol

Sunday 6th October, 2019

A Sunday night. What would be the sixth gig of the week. I was exhausted. I did not want to go out. The venue was changed two hours before the gig was due to start. To a location much harder for me to get to. But. The LaFontaines are my mate’s favourite band and it was her birthday treat from me to go. I put on my big girls pants, necked some painkillers and caught two buses.

It has been ages since I’ve seen Claire and we had a proper good catch up, missing the support band as we were chatting.

The venue is a pub down a side street between Stokes Croft and Gloucester Road and the live room is teeny, with the toilets just off the side back of the stage, which is only about 10cm high. All I knew about La Fontaines was what Claire had told me, which was to expect loud and rap. Not really things I like to be honest, but other than heavy metal and boy bands I’ve not ruled anything in or out on my musical journeying.

We wiggled ourselves towards the front and I took a deep breath. The drummer and guitarist took to the stage. The front man stood chatting with us in the crowd before joining the rest of the band to begin the performance. For that is what it was. Handsome and charismatic he wasn’t going to be happy until everyone was bouncing, waving, smiling and singing along. I’ve no idea what he was rapping about, the combination of heavy Glaswegian accent and sheer volume put pay to that, but the energy, verve and swagger with which he delivered was enough to win me over almost immediately.

After only about 10 minutes I felt my right knee go. It was soon joined by my left. Arthritic joints and a bouncy gig are not a great combination! Especially when you are right at the front, inches away from the band. Despite this I was having a really good time, an awful lot of fun and was smiling broadly. Being in such an intimate space with strangers, with an engaging front man determined to ensure you had a good time, reminded me of all the small, sweaty venues in which I’ve seen bands I love in the past. The passion of hardcore fans who knew every word and trick and wanted nothing more than to mosh like their lives depended on it was infectious. I joined in as best I could until the encore when I retreated to the back and the respite of a chair.

I had been promised loud and my ears were indeed assaulted by bass drum, excellent guitar shredding and Scottish rap. What more could you want on a dreary autumn evening? Sweat was pouring off the walls by the end. These sort of gigs are the lifeblood of the live industry, not in terms of the money they make (almost none I would have thought), but in the way they allow bands and fans to communicate with each other in such an intimate way. Bands learn their trade in pub back rooms and music lovers discover music in tiny venues, where ticket prices are low enough to afford risk. So many small venues have been lost, especially in the regions, that energy and fun get lost with them.

So long may pub back rooms continue to put on exciting bands. Long may La Fontaines play in or near Bristol for Claire’s birthday. See you down the front next year?

Penquin Cafe – St George’s, Bristol

Saturday 5th October, 2019

I saw Penquin Cafe in 2017 as part of 40 gigs, as part of Erased Tapes is 10 and had one of the most gloriously joy filled evenings of music I’ve ever experienced. So it really was a very easy decision to get tickets for this concert, especially as they were playing at one of my favourite places in Bristol, St George’s.

The first half of the concert was Penquin Cafe playing their latest album in its entirety, a darker and more coherent body of work than I’d heard before. Mostly written for a Greenpeace film about penquins (I wonder why they were asked?!) there was bleakness and wildness about the music, conjuring up the Antartic landscape and the hardy penquins who call it home. The opening piece was played almost in darkness, with soft lighting spilling through; small shafts of light penetrating the gloom. I wasn’t surprised to learn it was called Winter Sun, the string section and lighting working together to create an atmospheric mood. There were playful elements to the music too and the overall effect was to create a hopeful vista that left me feeling relaxed in an otherwordly way.

There were fewer members of Penquin Cafe this time, there had seemed to be about 25 of them last time I saw them, this time piano, bass, percussion, viola, cello and violins only. The sounds they made were very beautiful and with the almost perfect acoustics of St George’s the sound was round, full and suited the required sparseness of the landscape they were inspired by. There was a small part of me that missed the larger ensemble though.

It wasn’t all icy wilderness and isolated penquin colonies, there was also music inspired by ancient Greek mathematics by way of the BT engaged tone which was inspired, funny and touching in equal measure. Of course there was Perpetuum Mobile, I am sure they will be playing that at every concert forever. A solo piano track inspired by the kora, the west African percussive harp that is so spectacular to hear, was wonderful, as was The Sound Of Someone You Love Going Away And It Doesn’t Matter, which may replace Your Love Is Like An Itching In My Heart And I Can’t Scratch It as my favourite long song title.

Arthur Jeffes formed Penquin Cafe as a continuation of his father Simon’s work with Penquin Cafe Orchestra and a more loving tribute from son to father I don’t think you will find. There is tenderness and so much love in Penquin Cafe, it is felt in every finger stroke on the piano and in the warmth they create with their music. In keeping the spirit of eccentricity, intelligence and creativity alive in the music, Arthur is not only honouring his fathers memory, but ensuring it remains vital and relevant. He is not gone while he is still here. The continuum of musical notes, scales and cadences will outlive us all by centuries.

This was a different sort of Penquin Cafe concert than last time I saw them and that is no bad thing. Last time was joyfilled and joyful. This was more thoughtful and introspective. Both wonderful, relevant and useful experiences. Music that leaves you gently pondering, that it unclassifiable, that is made and shared with gentleness and great humanity is always music I will want to listen to.

 

Kathryn Williams – Rough Trade, Bristol

Saturday 5th October, 2019

I was supposed to be resting. Just like I was last night and yet I went out to a gig, and I went out to this free in-store gig today as well. I just don’t seem to be able to help myself do I?!

I had heard of Kathryn’s name in folk circles and then heard her music played on Mark Radcliffe’s Radio 2 folk show (yes I am this much of a convert to folk music now) and thought to myself, I should see her live. A tour to support the release an extensive anthology meant that Kathryn was playing in Bristol last night, which I of course missed as I was seeing David Allred instead. There was this free in store though, and although not the same, at least an opportunity to hear her play live.

The live room at Rough Trade is much better than the back room of a shop needs to be, the sound is always really good and they have a good range of acts on, some of which are free, like today. It takes the risk out of seeing someone live, that is for sure.

Kathryn herself ushered  us in, and I liked her immediately for doing so. It was an intimate group, a select band of music lovers who had gathered to hear Kathryn sing. It is the first gig I’ve been to where a small child coloured in super heroes on the floor, it was that much of a relaxed vibe.

It was evident to me very quickly that I was going to fall in love with Kathryn’s music. Within seconds I was kicking myself for not discovering her music any earlier. Better late than never, and if anyone would like to gift me the anthology box set (£65 which is a steal for how much you get with it, just a little beyond my budget at present) then I would at least the opportunity to dive in with a brilliant set of albums.

Kathryn talking about how, when touring in China people had asked for Mirrorball, and how “my music has travelled further than I have” made me smile. Music is our only human, universal language and it reaches us on a level nothing else can. It was a beautiful song and I’m not at all surprised it touched people half way across the world. Heart Shaped Stone made me wistful for days beach combing in the autumnal sun. My Mum was a champion stone finder and I still look for perfect ones for her now she is gone.

Kathryn’s voice is soft, gentle and warming. I feel as if she could sing me anything, a shopping list, the end credits of Eastenders, and I would still love it! I clearly have much listening work to do, going back over 20 years of music to find all the gems.

This was a wonderful half an hour of music and I wish I could have heard more. Thank you Kathryn for taking the time to play for us.

 

 

David Allred – Colston Hall Foyer, Bristol

Friday 4th October, 2019

I was supposed to be having a night off from gigs, after 2 late night trips back from other cities in a row and with 3 other gigs lined up this weekend, I was trying to be sensible and give myself some recovery time in-between. Then Colston Hall went and announced this gig. Still, I resisted. Then they went and put it in the culture flash sale and I had no choice but to forgo rest night and get a ticket!

I blame Erased Tapes. The label home of Nils Frahm and Penquin Cafe and so many brilliant others. I have yet to see or hear bad music from them and David Allred is signed to Erased Tapes, which is why I bought this ticket. There are sources you trust, and Erased Tapes and Colston Hall are among mine.

I am not going to lie, I was tired. Despite a decent enough night’s kip and a nap, the emotional and physical weight of two gig nights was tiring. I may or may not have been feeling a little fragile emotionally. But music has the power to transcend so off I went.

The front row was easy to get to, the crowd was, well, shall we say intimate. The foyer of Colston Hall wasn’t really designed for gigs, well not in this way I don’t think. Yet, while the main hall and lantern are being extensively refurbished (much needed but please hurry along, I miss you both) the space is being well utilised. The sound is much better than you would expect and the vastness of the foyer going upwards doesn’t steal the sound in any way. What did, to an extent, was the boom boom thud thud of the music coming from the venue across the road. Hopefully that can be rectified for future events.

It feels disingenuous to call Victoria Hume a support act when she played such a brilliant opening set. Starting on guitar, then moving to piano and ably supported on guitar, I realised I had seen Victoria before. I had to search this blog to confirm it but yes, she had been part of Daylight Music back in February. I had liked her enough on that occasion to buy her CD and it was a pleasant surprise to get to hear her again. Her music is lovely and gentle and washes away cares and carries for a while. Despite never having been stranded at Peterborough station I could relate to the starkness and aloneness conjured in sound by the song inspired by a journey there. Substitute Didcot Parkway and you’ve got it I thought to myself. There were a pair of tunes that have been released as part of Lost Map records postcard subscription service that I really, really liked. They were darker and more tense. I became a subscriber to the music postcard service on the bus journey home. Only £3.60 a month. Bargain. Also great idea. Now I have seen Victoria by accident twice I feel I need to see her on purpose at some point in the future, although perhaps her magic is in the unexpected. Her voice felt like a comfort blanket, warm and safe.

David Allred was clearly nervous and I felt an immediate rush of warmth towards him. Young, fragile and jetlagged, his fingers were trembling touching the piano keys, yet he still played brilliantly. At times really beautiful in its starkness and other times disruptive there was something about him that reminded me of Randy Newman. That is, if Randy Newman went more downbeat and depressing. It may have been maudlin, melancholic music but there is always something so wonderfully warm about hearing a piano played live. The combination of emotions stirred is fantastically human and complicated. You can play almost any style of music on a piano and it is one of the rare instruments that can be the solo star, or part of an ensemble. Endlessly creative and evocative I am a sucker for a piano. David was really affected by the noise coming from the other venue and visibly relaxed once that had been sorted out. To my super sensitive ears it was only a problem during the breaks between songs and when David reached the highest notes, otherwise the sound of his playing drowned it down, but I can see how it would have affected his rhythm’s. 

There was a song about a missing friend that struck a chord with me. Having a brother who was missing from my life for nearly two decades, I could identify with the frantic scanning of faces in crowds, looking and longing for the face you aren’t sure you will even recognise. It is a paticular pain that I am sorry we have shared, David. Yet in composing, playing and sharing it the pain can be lessened. Time, as with all grief, will heal to an extent. That and Lexington Hills were the pieces that most affected me.

As there was time before the bus home (Bristol may be a wonderful place to live for access to live music, but its public transport infrastructure is woeful) I stood chatting with the artists for a while afterwards. Explaining why music means to much got me a little emotional. It is a story I’ve shared many times, and sometimes it feels as if I am talking about someone else’s life; I forget how much I have been through and just what it all means. David had talked about how much it means to him, as an artist, that people come to hear him play, that he cannot not make music and share it. I feel the same compulsion to hear, to deeply listen and to write. When the connection is understood, it is purely magic. Thank you, David.

 

 

Richard Hawley – Students’ Union, Cardiff

Thursday 3rd October, 2019

It has been a long time since I last saw Richard Hawley live. Too long.

When this tour was announced I was filled with trepidation – the first time I saw Hawley was so magnificent I’ve been nervous to see him again. Plus the Bristol date was at the 02, a venue I try to avoid. Thankfully there was this Cardiff date as an alternative and despite the tickets being pricey I knew he would be worth it.

I’ve only dared see RH live twice. The first time was at Colston Hall (I miss you, hurry along the renovations) where I gazed up in awe and was moved physically and emotionally by the music. The second time was the near legendary 3 ring circus in Sheffield where he shared the bill with John Grant and Bill Ryder-Jones and I felt almost too many things at once as I was sat mere feet away from him playing a stripped back set. That was three years ago. So much has happened since, and I’ve been to so many gigs (52 in 2017, 79 in 2018 and 75 so far this year) that I had no idea how I would respond to this gig. My musical tastes have become so broad and left field that it is pretty rare that I’ll go to a gig for a bloke playing rock guitar thesedays! And yet, here I was, sat on the balcony of the Students’ Union in Cardiff awaiting a man who does exactly that.

My mate Gill introduced me to RH with the wise words “Hawley will get you through anything” handing me copies of Coles Corner and Lady’s Bridge. She was right. The music helped to heal me.  I was thinking about her at this gig and on the way home I heard that she got the all clear from stage 4 bowel cancer. Serendipity.

Richard Hawley isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel. He plays classic rock/pop music but he does it so well, with such conviction and heart, that it is impossible not to love him. He is a damn fine guitar player and has a deep baritone voice, melting like chocolate into wildly romantic songs that speak to my heart. I was used to the softer, gentler Richard until his last album when it seemed he found every amp in Sheffield and turned it up to 11. He moves between the ballads and the rockier songs with ease. There is a country/rockabilly/folk/skiffle undercurrent that weaves through the story telling songs that I also love.

I am not sure I would want to pay the Students’ Union in Cardiff another visit. Slightly out of the City centre, up a lot of steps and the whole thing felt slightly disorganised (although the security team from the usually dreaded ShowSec were ok for a change, so that’s a positive). Mostly though I was disappointed in the sound quality. I was up on the balcony, it should have been good up there. It felt like the 02 in Bristol in the bad old days. The atmosphere was flat for a long time, people showed up quite late and talked too much. Cardiff crowds are usually a lot better than this. I suppose I am spoilt by Bristol audiences, who are almost always timely, respectful and decent (well at the venues I frequent they are anyway).

There was excellent support from Get Cape, Wear Cape, Fly, who I would very happily go to see again. Sadly the audience was quite sparse and talked throughout his set, which was unfair as he was playing his heart out up there. He has a lot of passion and energy and from what I heard, really good songs.

I was feeling edgy and uncomfortable and gave half a thought to leaving early to be honest. Would Hawley be able to pull me round? Get me through this? Well, yes, of course he could, his music really will get you through anything.

Opening with a trio of songs from Further we were bombarded with a wall of sound that blew away a few cobwebs. Then “let’s get dark” Standing At The Sky’s Edge and I was away and gone. It is deep, dark, disturbing song that takes you to the fringes and margins and it builds and builds so fantastically. I love it and the old body creakily moved its way in time, even within my seat I couldn’t help but respond. It feels like a primeval need, to move to music, for drums to provide rhythm and hips to join in.

There were pepperings of the more gentle songs, including the lush strings and melodies of Coles Corner, an unashamedly romantic and nostalgic tune that sweeps you up and away into a cloud of beauty. If I could I would choose this to dance a waltz to on Strictly! I’m goosebumpy all over listening to it again now, the piano and strings are perfection. Tonight The Streets Are Ours just made me smile, it is such a joyous and joy bringing piece of music.

I heard the beginnings of Don’t Stare At The Sun and I was a happy lady, one of my favourites (in a crowded field, RH has so many wonderful songs it is impossible to pick just one) as it has all the elements going on; guitars, slow build up and wind towards explosive conclusion, that voice being both dark and menacing and romantic and loving, gentle and yet also hard, and nearly 6 minutes long. He followed this with Time Is and fucking fabulous harmonica work from the band – all of whom were bloody ace. With a leader as good as Hawley, you know anyone playing with him will also be a great musician. From that to Open Up Your Door. Oh gosh. The tears began in the opening bars and just continued throughout. Such beauty and honesty in a love song, yes please, Richard, yes please. It was so beautiful and shimmered like a jewel in the sunlight, I almost never wanted it to end, yet the tears were flowing so freely I needed to to stop so I could compose myself. I was completely lost in that moment, it was wonderful.

He had played so many songs, back to back, with minimal chat between, that somehow we were almost at the end already, which was unbelievable. The main set was closed by Heart Of Oak, a better epitaph for Hawley I can’t think of.

In order to exit the venue in time to get the last train home to Bristol we decided to leave the balcony and wait near the door, which happened to be at the side of the stage. It was ace to watch most of the encore from that vantage point and see the expression on Richard’s face as he got lost in his playing. I wish I hadn’t had to dash before the final notes, but I had to ensure I got home! On the way out I managed to pick up a bottle of  Hawley’s Hendo’s, the best bit of band merch I’ve ever purchased. I also managed a quick hello and you were great to Get Cape who was lurking my the merch. I promised I would see him the next time he played Bristol.

It has been three long and busy years since I last saw Richard Hawley live. I really hope it isn’t another three before I get to see him again. He is just fabulous live, pure and simple.

Bill Ryder-Jones – St Matthias Chapel, London

Wednesday 3rd October, 2019

Bill was my last gig in September and was to be my first in October too. When the Yawny Yawn tour was announced I initially plumped for the Reading date because Reading is easier to get home from late than London and because I am, in general, not a fan of London gigs anymore. Where there is a choice between the capitol or elsewhere I’ll almost always take the elsewhere if I can! Then I thought about how shitty Reading audiences are (loud, rowdy and drunk) and how amazing the acoustics are in churches and thought what the hell, I love Bill, let’s go see him twice.

Bill is always worth showing up for, even on a bad night he is better than most performers, but if you catch him on a good night, he is something very special indeed.

Arriving at St Matthias Church in Dalston at 7pm I found Kate and Anthony who volunteer with Daylight Music (lunchtime gigs at Union Chapel most Saturdays in the year – go) outside a locked gate with a homemade poster stating that this was the entrance for the Bill Ryder-Jones gig. We laughed and imagined a bumbling vicar with a large bunch of keys letting us in.

Once inside I plumped for a front row pew with a view of Bill at the piano, bought a can of ginger beer from the drinks table and waited with nerves a jangling.

Support came from Brooke Bentham, whose amazing voice rang out loud and clear through the church. I’ve not heard of her before, but I would like to do so again. She was a perfect choice of support for Bill, similar style of music and tone. To hear that they have written together and that Bill has been producing her stuff came as no surprise. This is another thing I love about Bill, that he surrounds himself with great women. Support acts, tour manager and many of the acts he chooses to produce (Our Girl, Brooke, Lucy Gaffney) are female. It is an example many other blokes in music could choose to follow to help even out the gender imbalance in the industry. Brooke has an album due out very soon, the title of which was not suitable to say in a church apparently, but will be well worth your time seeking out.

Out came Bill. Oh lovely. wonderful, Bill. Apologising for his slight cold and full of his usual gobshite (we love you for it, never change) chat he started on the piano with John, caveating that it bore no resemblance to anyone living or dead, especially his parents, even though his Dad’s name is John. As ever the songs were sad, but the chat was funny and sharp and wicked in places. I love his humour and enormous warmth as much as I do his fragility and maudlin tendencies. Bill Ryder- Jones is a bundle of contradictions, a real, flawed human being, laying open his heart in his music and that is why I love him.

He moved over to guitar, took a request for Songbirds and broke my heart a little with how beautiful it sounded. His voice sounded fantastic, despite the cold, and the wonderfully warm acoustics of the church helped to add resonance and depth to the sound. The eyes became a little leaky if truth be told, and as he started Put It Down Before You Break It I took a little gulp, it is one of the ones I had been wishing he played and the combination of the two songs just had me.

When he was back at the piano he asked any more requests and when I asked for Don’t Be Scared I Love You (which I had been nervous about asking for, fearing that wicked humour, taking it literally as a declaration) he teased me with a no before it became a yes. This is the track I most wanted to hear as I had been surprised at it’s non inclusion in Reading, and because it is so achingly beautiful in sentiment. Real or imagined, I don’t really care, the lines “with six words and one kiss, don’t be scared I love you” just break me. There is so much pain rippled with so much hope in this song that it takes my breath away and makes me cry. It is the one that stops me in my tracks when I listen on the bus, or walking to work, that demands you stop and absorb it fully. So, live, on a piano, in a church, sung at my request, with Bill feet away, it was almost too much. If I could have hugged him there and then on the spot at the end of the song I would have.

There Are Worse Things I Could Do is just as magnificent in its own way and exemplifies all I love about Bill Ryder-Jones. The humour (stealing a song title from Grease), the confessional, story telling lyrics, the pain and hurt of being an outsider, the hope and defiance of being yourself, with the piano melody and his gorgeous, gorgeous voice.

He also played Lemon Tress, Wild Swans, Daniel, Wild Roses, Then There’s You, Mither and others. I do try to remember what is played, I really do. I may not remember titles but I do always remember how I feel and Bill’s music makes me feel deeply. I get lost in his music, drowning in sadness and hope all at once, often times while laughing or smiling at the same time. What you do to me, Bill, playing with my heart so.

I had to leave to get the last train back to Bristol so had no chance to offer Bill another cuddle, I hope someone provided it for me.

Bill Ryder-Jones. I love his music. It really is that simple. Buy his records, see him play live, keep supporting a musician who makes me feel, really feel. My life is made better by having Bill Ryder-Jones’ music in it. Your will be too.

 

 

Bill Ryder-Jones – South Street Arts Centre, Reading

Thursday 26th September, 2019

I love Bill Ryder-Jones. There I’ve said it. He has the sort of vulnerable, fragile voice that just cuts through me and makes me cry. He makes wonderfully beautiful yet melancholic music and I love him for it.

The first time I saw him was in Sheffield, on a bill with Richard Hawley and John Grant (talk about a treat, that was a very special night indeed) where I had never heard of him and was knocked out by his achingly beautiful vocals, including a Welsh language Super Furry Animals cover. He also wrestled with a very long jelly snake sweet and cans of lager from a blue plastic bag. He was shambolic, funny and I fell a teeny bit in love with him.

Since then I’ve seen him play solo, with a full band, in an arts centre, a record shop and at a festival. His music is always brilliant, even if he is suffering with stage fright and/or over self medicating with alcohol. The tension inherent in the conflict in Bill’s soul, between being compelled to make and share music while being terrified of doing the same is something I in part understand and respond to on a very human level. I always want to cuddle him and tell him it will be ok before a gig (even if that would be weird) and Bill has been gentlemanly enough to let me give him a cuddle after a gig. It feels like the right thing, I can’t help but feel I want to offer him comfort. It is also a tiny gesture of thanks. I may not have lived Bill’s life but I have been affected by loss, grief and mental health problems. We almost all have. Bill writes about his, wearing his heart on his sleeve and baring his soul in his music. Who wouldn’t feel vulnerable in standing on a stage and sharing that with strangers?

Last years album Yawn, was full of those sort of beautifully sad songs and the reworking of them as Yawny Yawn as piano led tracks made some of them even more heartbreaking. This tour is to support that and as I’ve never heard Bill play piano I was prepared to trek out to Reading to hear them played live even when my other Reading gigs have been fairly disastrous.

South Street Arts Centre was really nice. Small, friendly and with a monkey hand stamp I liked the place. Even if I was expecting seats and it was standing. It was an intimate space, maybe only 100 of us in there.

Support was from Lucy Gaffney who is a singer songwriter from Belfast who has a cracking voice. Her short set included a brilliant cover of Linger (yes, you did it justice) and songs of love ending that seemed quite poignant. I would happily hear her play again.

Bill started with John on the piano. I love the ambiguity of this track, not knowing for sure if Bill is singing a Dear John letter himself to a lost lover, or putting himself in the shoes of a woman who is. It shouldn’t be striking to hear men singing directly to other men, should it? Yet is is.

Part of the idea of this tour is taking requests and Bill took one from a lad in the audience who looked about my son’s age (12) for Two To Birkenhead even though it meant setting up his guitar pedals. I bet the boy was thrilled – I saw him getting his T shirt signed at the end of the night and it gladdened my heart. Sadly the louder voices in the crowd (all male, unsurprisingly) drowned out my request (but it was ok he played the song I would have asked for later anyway). Seabirds made me cry. Ditto Lemon Trees and Wild Roses.  I don’t even know why I react with such strong emotion to songs, I just can’t help it. The aching and the longing and the sense of loss just climb into my heart and make me weep. Bill’s is the sort of voice that moves me and isn’t that what music is for? To connect us? To help us heal? In sharing the vulnerability and the pain, we know we are not alone and that is therapeutic. Well it is for me. In music I have a home, in music I am safe. I am wrapped in melody and sound like a comfort blanket and for those moments everything will be ok. Bill Ryder-Jones is one of the artists that make me feel like this.

Any man who can take the title of a tune from Grease and turn it into his own touching and challenging song about being a man who maybe, on occasion, likes to be with other men and wear make up and heels, is a man for whom I have a lot of respect. There are worse things any of us can do than go with a boy or two, that’s for damn sure. And it was fucking fabulous to hear Bill telling the young lad to ignore the ending of Grease for the way the female character became subservient – chaps this is how you become a feminist ally! Also please, Bill, agree with me that Grease 2 is a way better film? Perhaps a cover of Cool Rider or Reproduction would be in order one day. Or I Will Survive, that you teased us with on the piano. Ach, whatever you want to play is alright with me, Bill. Just keep playing with such openness and love and I will keep responding with the same. I’ll see you again next week in London.