Name in Lights -
Boo Hewerdine, The Winter Kings, Paul Richards, Alex Harris and Alighting
Cancer Research UK Charity Gig
Legends Bar, Cambridge - Friday 20th June 2008
I've learned not to expect anything especially, my cynical side says,
from local music nights in Cambridge. Tonight I turn up without expectations
but in support of a friend who is doing some good with the creative
medium that fulfils that purpose better than most.
The night begins with Alighting, a well established sibling duo
who now, thankfully, look to be expanding the canvas of their sound
once again and not before time. Whilst they have always written delicately
haunting songs they certainly benefit from the extra dimensions additional
musicians allow them to explore and this is highly evident tonight with
only a bass player thrown into the mix.
The changeovers are quick and we only have a few moments to reflect
on the sobering facts about cancer that are presented to us before Alex
Harris appears on stage with his new slim lined backing band. I've
not seen Alex perform for some time and I'd almost forgotten what a
lost treasure this man is. Whether you like his brand of sentimentality
or not I defy anyone to find a better songwriter locally who incorporates
such a range of emotion. It is a unique ability to be able to move a
human being from tears to reflection to an uncontrollable urge to dance
within a few minutes.
Slipped in next is the charity single Name in Lights penned by Michelle
Bessant and featuring an ensemble of musicians taken from tonight's'
various acts. The poignant lyrics delivered by Alex Harris' soulful
voice, whilst not directly related to tonight's subject matter, provide
a rousing three minutes of touching pop melodrama which, although tainted
with a hint of sadness, leave us all with a sense of hope.
Paul Richards, the organiser of tonight's events,
gets to show off his real talents next by throwing all kinds of jazz
beats and quirky time signatures at us with his band Under The Streetlamp.
As usual Jess' powerful voice uplifts the audience as they slowly begin
to shuffle closer to the stage. The similarly jazzy pop trio Fingersmith
follow this and I have often thought of them as a poor Ben Folds without
the songs - style but no substance. Tonight, however, I am pleased to
say I can push all cynicism to one side as they continue to propel the
evening on and even manage to get my toes tapping.
If I had any real hopes for tonight then they lay with the next band
- The Winter Kings. For once in my life I am not disappointed.
I don't know the band well enough yet to even recognise any of their
songs but it doesn't matter because they have so much power, display
so much raw emotion and are led by such an effervescent front man that
it is impossible not to get drawn in to their show. I have never seen
a front man locally who is more at home and yet so uneasy on stage as
Austin. His words roll around his pervading accent as he awkwardly moves
around the empty floor until slowly he pulls us in closer to the stage
and suddenly this starts to become something very intimate. The audience
no longer stand as voyeurs but become complicit in the dark words and
melodies of the band. I can't stop thinking that they should not be
here, that they should be filling stadiums but the fact that they are
here makes this moment even more beautiful and I don't want it to end.
The Winter Kings
I have no idea how the next act can follow this. Boo Hewerdine
is tonight's headliner and whilst he is an established songwriter he
is not one I am familiar with and when he strides alone toward the stage
with only an acoustic guitar I start to feel a slight pang of concern.
However, the crowd does not move, it remains in anticipation. Most likely
they know a lot more than I do because even whilst the sound level may
have dropped there is now such a buzz in the room that his first song
slips so perfectly into place but it is what follows that turns this
into quite possibly the most magical musical experience I have ever
encountered in Cambridge.
One by one Boo begins to 'borrow' members of The Winter Kings line up
to accompany him impromptu on stage much to the drunken disgruntlement
of their front man. Their musicianship is of the highest quality and
they play as if they had been a band for thirty years. I for one could
have listened to Max's blues guitar howlings layering over the top of
the delicate acoustic ensemble all night but it is not just the new
found band that make this special - it is the audience. This is my first
encounter with Boo but even with my reserved nature I find myself clapping
along, tapping my foot, singing along to lyrics I've never heard before
and we are all in it together. We have grown from the intimacy provided
by the Winter Kings to the raucous nature of friends. In that one moment
the whole room is as one and it encapsulates everything that is positive
and unique about music.
When the band leave the stage Boo remains alone to screams of 'more'
and finally Austin gets his chance to return to the stage. For a final
few moments we are treated to a more sombre melody that allows The Winter
Kings' front man to show off his ability to improvise and his sense
of dark humour. The audience laugh, then cheer and eventually remain
standing. The lights go up and we all look around. None of can explain,
that is the beauty of it.
I am inspired again, there is hope.
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