It was off to the Phil to hear the smooth baritone sounds of John Grant, who I’d previously seen at a rammed East Village Arts Club in October 2013 while promoting his second album, Pale Green Ghosts. Sadly, that came shortly before I started this blog, so I am unable to greatly refresh my memory.
I left the recovering-from-chicken-pox Boy Wonder in the capable hands of My Beloved Wife very shortly before his bedtime, fortunately timing it perfectly for one of the less regular trains into town as it was a Sunday.
I made it through the drizzle in good time for the support act, settling in my seat to enjoy some Nina Simone from the 1960’s, with the stalls slowly filling up during her set. My specifically-acquired aisle seat showed its downside at this point, as I had to make way several times for latecomers.
The evening proper kicked off with Sóley, also part of Icelandic indie-folk band Seabear, who was dressed in what appeared to be some kind of rug or throw turned into a dress (though I realise I am not really in a position to be offering fashion advice at all).
This was certainly the right kind of venue for her delicate music. The first song, Smashed Birds off her solo debut We Sink from 2011, was the only one she played on guitar, as she then moved over to keyboards, slightly confounding my initial impression of her as a Nordic (and much younger!) version of Linda Perhacs or Vashti Bunyan.
She was a very charming presence, saying that she wasn’t going to comment on any local sports issues as she didn’t really know anything about it. Probably wise. The final track was a big ballad, I’ll Drown, which made use of some clever self-sampling.
I beat a hasty retreat as she left the stage to head to the Philharmonic pub, where I enjoyed a nice pint of Adnams’ hoppy The Herbalist before getting back to my seat in time to enjoy some more Nina Simone before the main event.
As John Grant’s band came onto the stage, the Intro from his most recent album, last year’s Grey Tickles, Black Pressure, played – it’s a series of people reading from St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians: “love is patient, love is kind”, and so on.
The man himself emerged and we went straight into the new album’s Geraldine, the first of many of his songs to feature incidental swearing, which just forms part of his lyrics in a very natural way. He really is a man with a golden voice, calling to mind a mix of Nick Cave, classic crooners and Lambchop’s Kurt Wagner.
Drummer Budgie was very expressive and was introduced as being from Liverpool (St. Helens, actually!), with Grant saying “he’s no woolly back”, which inevitably got a heckle back of “he is!”. I hadn’t realised that he was in the band, and can’t say I recognised him. I last saw him when he was still with Siouxsie And The Banshees back in 1988 (twice!), when they headlined the Royal Albert Hall (my second ever proper gig) and then Brixton Academy, when they were supported by Suicide who certainly got much of the crowd’s backs up, though I loved them.
Keyboard player Chris Pemberton from Coventry and Pétur Hallgrímsson from Iceland on guitar both sported flat caps, rather oddly.
As he continued to mine the latest record with Down Here, with the great line “and what we got down here is oceans of longing”, I made a note to myself (yes, these blogs are not entirely reliant on memory!), simple but to the point, “what a fucking voice”.
The gloriously yearning tunes continued, with Marz off solo debut album from 2010 Queen Of Denmark the first oldie to get an outing, before he moved into its follow-up, 2013’s more electronic Pale Green Ghosts.
Grant was clearly enjoying himself, throwing some great shapes on the new album’s Snug Slacks, which was followed by Guess How I Know with its wild keyboard solo, and another great line in “I didn’t like it in Germany and I ain’t gonna start liking it for you”.
Glacier from the second album revealed its McCartney tonal qualities, although its lyrics of homophobia, again featuring a smattering of choice language, are less Macca-esque. His lyrics often overflow the tunes, but in a really engaging way, much like Jeffrey Lewis and Courtney Barnett.
The (obviously seated) not-ancient-but-certainly-not-young crowd grew into his performance, with plenty joining in when he left it to us to sing the final line of his first solo album’s title track, the title of the song itself, Queen Of Denmark.
Following an utterly fabulous rendition of Disappointing from the latest album, unsurprisingly minus the sublime Tracey Thorn, the main set was over. It’s worth noting that as well as being utterly gorgeous, this is a song packed with great lines, including “the genitive case in German, it’s true, is something that I am quite partial to”.
He returned with his band to perform a trio of tracks off Grey Tickles, Black Pressure, before the band left him on his own to perform Drug by his old band The Czars, a song I was not at all familiar with. While enjoyable, you could certainly detect the huge artistic leaps he has made as a solo performer since that act’s conclusion.
Finally, keyboardist Chris Pemberton returned to join Grant on one final song, Caramel from Queen Of Denmark, a beautiful gay love ballad.
It truly was a wonderful evening’s music, with the band members mostly backlit throughout the performance, so their huge shadows skittered up and down the walls of the hall. Sadly, he didn’t perform a few of my favourites, such as Where Dreams Go To Die, I Hate This Town and Sigourney Weaver, but there were more than enough great songs played for that to only occur to me later.
The evening finished early enough for a speed pint of Ossett’s White Rat in The Dispensary before getting a relatively early train home.
After some consideration, I wore my Morrissey t-shirt from his time as curator of the Meltdown festival at the Royal Festival Hall (back in 2004, when I saw both him and Nancy Sinatra perform). The only ones I spotted amongst the crowd were New Order and the execrable Mumford & Sons.
If you want to get an email notification each time there is a new blog post (about once a fortnight, on average), then click on the “Follow” button at the top left of this screen.
Here is much of the music from the night on Spotify: