John Smith *****
Stevie Jackson *****
The Purcell Room, London Southbank, 25th March 2013
I’m always wary of ‘gigs’ in classical venues. The august surroundings often imprint an unwanted over-reverence or high art elevation onto the show.
Saying that, tonight’s sell out crowd bizarrely look pretty much like regular well heeled recital goers. Not too many folky beardy weirdies, sandals, pewter tankards or the whiff of patchouli oil, pulses or exotic and intoxicating herbs. Sadly. More gin and tonic than Roccy Black (ask yer dad kids). I’ll get over it.
Stevie Jackson *****So, first up is lone man and guitar Stevie Jackson; he of Belle And Sebastian fame. A decent sized gentrified throng has gathered in the hushed gloomy cavern to catch the fragile motes and notes of Jackson’s frail (and sadly flimsy) acoustic reveries.
The silence is crushing and it can’t really be aiding Jackson as he nervously and timorously meanders his way through his oft sensitive and gossamer-thin narrative.
His songs, while dripping with personal pain, points, poignancy and the occasional Celtic or political barb, regrettably, are not strong enough to neither grab nor hold onto the G&T guzzlers attention. And there’s soon a very polite drift back to the foyer bar gathering apace.
When indie or alternative acts unplug and cross the genre beams, it often exposes the lack of substance and reliance on ‘anti-performance’ or willful eschewal of genuine musical skill. While Jackson can obviously play the guitar a bit, his reedy, featherlight voice, lack of song structure and general meandering pulls us all back into bedsit land. I’m sure, cross legged on a bedroom floor surrounded by mates, bongs, copies of The Morning Star, and cheap wine, he sounds mightily more relevant. But tonight, he’s out of his class. Out of his depth. And out of his comfort zone. A shame.
By now the dark, moist comfort of the Purcell Womb is almost ready to pop. But still eerily silent. Gone are the days of banter. Laughs. Giggles. Interaction. Gigglefests with Renbourn, Jansch or Martyn sucking on a big one or knocking back Tennessee-based tinctures seem to be distant, blurry memories. The reverence and respect is almost overbearing.
No matter, Smith takes to the stage with trusted sidesman Jon Thorne and in a very demure, beautiful and seductive way, blows the bloody doors off.
Reservations and discomfort about the almost ecclesiastical atmosphere are swept aside immediately. Smith’s wonderful whispers, growls, and beguiling vocals, his ridiculously mesmeric and technically amazing playing instantly causes jaws to drop, tears to swell, lumps to form in throats, hairs stand on end and hearts a pounding. All perfectly silently of course.
A wonderful array of songs from the the amazing new album Great Lakes are given the live treatment. Some with beautifully played strings as a delicious accompaniment and embellishment. Old favourites like the always mesmeric Winter and the haunting Invisible Boy are rolled out. Even a spot of feedback (how dare it! - although the crowd proves it's still out there with polite giggles in reaction) fails to disrupt the beauty of the goosebump-inducing Lungs. Throughout, bottleneck, frightening dexterity, dobros, technical trickery of the highest order and limpid vocal perfection are all glued together with Thorne’s spellbinding and sensitive Danny Thomsonesque double bass work.
This my friends is as good as live acoustic music gets. As near perfection as there is.
Smith’s songcraft has developed since his stunning debut The Fox And The Monk and he’s rapidly cementing himself in the position of Britain’s greatest young folk performer. Absolutely masterful. If not a little light on the crowd involvement. Man, he’d have loved Bunjies back in the day. Or night. As much as they’d have loved him. Astonishing.
Now where’s that Roccy?
Here's Mr Smith's delightful most recent single. Dive in.