St Paul’s Church, Birmingham
Jurado is one of what I think of as the good guys, one of that welter of earnest and efficient acoustic troubadours, beavering away in their cottage industries, issuing disc after disc, possibly omni-touring to make a buck, never filling stadiums but capable of drawing a couple of hundred souls out on a wet and windy, into a cold and crumbling church in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter.
I know little of his back story, my presence largely on account of 2006’s ‘And Now I’m In Your Shadow’, a bleak showcase of his sad songs; a quiet earthquake of dashed emotions. Since then he has dabbled, I gather, with other formats, a bit of psychedelia, some found sound, bands and electricity. But I read that latest album, The Shape of a Storm, was just him, his voice and an acoustic, and I was in.
Support was a young Canadian, Dana Gavanski, strumming on a muted electric to the keyboard and bass of her accompanist, together, with occasional drum machine, channeling Mazzy Star, with keen, pure Sandovalesque vocals and spare melodies, the spaces as important as the sounds. Lovely stuff, the acoustics of the building throwing the music skyward.
Half an hour to refuel; yes, there was a bar, and the burly Jurado loped on, beany on against the chill. Seemingly desperately self-conscious, little in the way of introduction, some tuning, a false start for a missing capo and he began. He has a quiet voice, pitched as a cracked tenor, dipping in and out of his range to imbue emotion, thumb sweeping the strings of a single unchanged guitar, a bit of finger picking for variety. This is slow music, quiet music, the creaky old pews wished into silence by the awestruck, attentive audience. Heads nodding, eyes closed, lost in these, mostly, mournful stories. In truth I can’t tell you what he played, although much of the new album featured, the words tallying with the names on the CD I bought at the end. There were newer songs still and, I am sure, some I could recall. A couple were almost lively, for which he apologised, the mood overall of a wry melancholia. Very much mood music, and I was in the mood. Playing for, I guess, about 90 minutes, at no time did the time drag or the moment falter. I doubt many can hold an audience with such seemingly simple fare. He did, then showing a wry geniality at the march desk, that perhaps explaining the loyalty of his fanbase. Most there seemed to know his every note and to be on first name terms.
Hipster fringe, lots of beards and flat tops, leaking into older acolytes of americana and folk. Largely couples, 60:40 male to female. Amicable.Respectful to the performer: in a room where every pin drop could deafen, pins were kept held of and phones were off.
It made me think..
Why aren’t churches used more often? OK, no light show, no stage to speak of and the most uncomfortable wooden seating my butt has experienced in some years, but brilliant sound and, structurally, not so far off the design of a theatre, there being an upstairs balcony and sides here, reminiscent of Digbeth’s O2 Institute.
I learn that St Pauls has quite a second life as a venue, it being, next week, the home of a festival of electronic chamber music, including, which would be perfect for them, A Winged Victory For the Sullen. A learn too late, mind, as completely sold out….