I thought Iíd write a quick review of the Chester gig, not because no one else was there (obviously, there were a few off the list), but because for me, it was significant. It might be that, not having seen Nick for a while, and after the relative downer of the Crewe gig, I was just easily impressed. However, the Chester gig might just be the best Nick gig Iíve ever been to, and Iíve been to dozens now.
Iíd never been to Telfordís before for a gig - even though I know it well as a drinking place, having grown up in Chester - but it really is a great venue. Great sound (maybe helped by the exposed brickwork?), intimate, good beer, an OK-ish crowd (some Scouser-types chatting loudly occasionally, but not too bad), and obviously a place Nick feels comfortable in. The difference between Chester and Crewe couldnít have been more stark, and was obvious from the moment Nick came on stage ≠ he looked and sounded at home right from the start.
The whole evening had already been started off with a nice, wry set from a guy from Memphis called Bob Cheevers, who spun a nice, relaxed line in country folk, including a rather amusing ditty called ĎI like sheepí, which he said had been much enjoyed in Scotland and which elicited much laughter here. I did advise him afterwards, however, that he should be careful playing it in Wales, as he had said he had been told to. Many a fight has been started in Chester by the sheep-shaggers coming up to the pub from Wrexham on the bus at the weekend and taking offence at being referred to as suchÖ But I digress...
Anyway, Nickís relaxed demeanour fed through to his playing, which was fast and sharp. In fact, he seemed to be playing all the songs faster than at Crewe, and they benefited from the added oomph that gave them. I also wondered whether being tuned down a semitone, as he informed us after consulting with his harmonica (and it would appear the man can play that too!), actually helped for some songs, especially the more full-on ones, which had sounded a bit strained in Crewe but here were much more controlled, in a good way. The slower songs lacked delicacy, I thought, because Nick wasnít lifting his voice as high as he normally does, and so was sounding a bit more robust than appropriate. I suggested to him after the gig that maybe that implied he should Ďdo a Royí in future and have two differently-tuned guitars, but he said lugging one guitar around was quite enough, thank you.
The set was similar to the gigs at Crewe and Brighton. A new one to me was the instrumental, the name of which I forget, about playing the kidsí game where you hit a ball into a tree and run round the trunk [The Whack And Riddle Tree? - Paula]. He informed us he was obliged to play it every time he came to Chester. He also played the instrumental off the end of ...Kennel [Riverside - Paula] on the 12 string. And he also managed to break three strings (it was three, always the same one), and did the now almost obligatory string change during the extended Headless while singing ĎLove is Musicí over and over. Mesmeric.
I think in general the Harperspace songs come over absolutely fantastically live. The Verse Time Forgot is beautiful, Karmageddon has the power without emphasising the sometimes trite (methinks) lyrics, and She Rules My World is worth hearing just for the associated, and repeated, banter (check Double Life for an example). Iím not quite sure that Song Of Madness works as well live as on CD, and I wish heíd play Kettledrum Heart and Before They Put Me In The Ground more often, but I suppose Iím happy if he continues to play Smithereens. I just wish heíd finish it the same way he does at the end of the acoustic version on the album...
Thatís about it. A great gig. If the second Brighton gig was a 'kitchen gig' (as Nick dubbed it), this sounded like a 'bedroom gig', the man really into the playing in a thoughtful and experimental way. And he even sat around afterwards signing CDs, including my Double Life. I asked him why he hadnít been on Later with Jools Holland, and he said he hadnít been asked - even Glenn [Tilbrook] canít get on it, apparently. But he said, ĎSo what? This is good enough, isnít it?í He seems perfectly happy playing great gigs to small (about 100 in the case, I should think) but appreciative audiences, which is great, but the man deserves some wider recognition, I reckon.
Just some last few words on Double Life. Iíll say I obviously havenít listened to it enough yet. Which must be why Iím a tad disappointed. I donít know why. Maybe itís the mix, or maybe I just want the impossible, but it lacks the bass power of the real thing, somehow, which is maybe why the versions to me sound a bit lightweight and less than perfect. ≠ I find myself listening to the missed notes in his singing and the less-than-perfect bits of playing, which I either donít hear when Iím actually at a gig, or which he doesnít tend to do at the gigs Iím at! Donít get me wrong, itís a great album, a must-have, and a great set of songs, but itís still no substitute for the real thing. Some people are never happy, I guess!