Kitchen Garden Cafe, King’s Heath, Birmingham
To think I had neither heard of this band, nor of Ross Wilson, for it/they is he, much more than a month ago, and he having providing a contender for both album and, after tonight, gig of the year. Hat’s both duly tipped to @tiggerlion, @steveT and I set off this cold november sunday, neither perhaps fully in the mood, even if the familiar cosiness of the KGC proved a welcoming, and warm, haven. A brief set from the incredibly spider-fingered Andy Lucas proved a comfortable start. Later to appear with the band, he adeptly tinkled through 5 or 6 numbers, stylistically a little reminiscent of a Randy Newman. The short gap for refreshment and the trio that were BCR tonight came on, the additional pair being Lyle Watt on, mainly, electric guitar, and Wilson himself on vox and acoustic. Kicking off with the delightful lament, Over the Fields, my favourite and the opener from the album, a warm glow provided by the piano/vocals interplay, he then said how the three of them were going to try to play the new album in set order, admitting also a failure to manage that earlier on the tour. This would be no small feat, as many of the songs feature strings, brass, pedal steel, whistle (and precious few feature any obvious electric guitar.) I confess to some understandable scepticism, ahead of being given a masterclass of spare reinterpretations. He really can carry a tune, his voice evocative of a youthful Van Morrison, together with the whole gamut of Van-style repetitions and ejaculations of joy. Masterful microphone technique added zeal to appeal, with much of his vocals off mike and unamplified. Inarticulate speech of the heart or what, with the 2 backing musicians being very much up to the class and atmospheric of John Platania and Jef Labes, of Van’s 1970s Caledonia Soul Orchestra, no small feat as I doubt the guitarist were born much earlier than the 1990s.(Ed: he’s 24!) At long last I am able to use the line this venue cries out for, they were tighter than the audience seating plan. So they did play the album, all bar the instrumental suite in the middle, substituting with an earlier song. The widescreen orchestrations and backing vocalists were, remarkably, forgotten in the swirling still of the moment. Following that came the joy of several of his earlier songs, interspersed with somewhat self-deprecatory stories, and affirmation of his personal joy in performing, citing that any performing musician who isn’t enjoying the experience is either faking their muse or in the wrong game. Or both. We also learnt that his girlfriend was 3 days overdue their first child, the tour and recording contract having been arranged ahead of that news, with him diligently checking his phone between every number. Almost oddly, within that context, came a beautiful song about his earlier relationship and divorce, regretting how he failed to say goodbye, but it just worked and demonstrated to me how much this young fella actually feels the world, painful and vibrant alike. Another highlight was his paean to the places of his beloved west coast of Scotland, ahead of a wry admission that he now lived in Manchester. Finally, rather than leaving the stage, saying he would prefer to devote a little more time onstage than the farce of an encore, playing, he said, a rare cover, this being John Martyn’s Don’t Want to Know. Whilst clearly an influence, I don’t actually hear much of Martyn in his style, even if all his press releases seem to reference this presence. But if you can imagine a young and still handsome Martyn, singing his all, but sober, perhaps this was how he was. All in all a terrific evening and someone I will definitely be seeking out again. I would love to hear these songs with the full band and string quartet, promised for wednesdays official launch in Edinburgh. And, do you know, I think it will be a struggle for it to be as good as was tonight.
to say elderly and respectful sounds disrespectful, but, give or take the odd youngster (Steve and I), it did seem that way. As ever I am a little saddened that intelligent new music in styles that may be of the last century attract only the audience of their influences.
It made me think..
Here’s this guy, playing out his heart and lungs to perhaps 60 people, whilst most of the country is looking for new talent on weekend TV talent contests.