James Blackshaw, Hamilton Yarns, Will René: The Joker, Brighton, 12 June 2015
Having opened for the likes of Swans, Earth and Stars of the Lid, seeing James Blackshaw is invariably an evening of surprises and contrasts.
By comparison, the skull shaped glitterball at the Joker and the hum of London Road on a Friday night seems strangely pedestrian.
First up is singer/songwriter Will René with friendly acoustic numbers about the sea, sitting in doctor’s waiting rooms and EastEnders’ Ian Beale. You can probably guess what this sounds like already.
This is ostensibly your conventional capoed folk and blues strumming but with some flourishing, lucid arpeggios.
René takes a scatter gun approach to songwriting. There’s some jolly potential, but it’s hard to gauge where he’s going with it all. But in a crowded market, that need not be a bad thing. This ambiguity is clearly his main USP.
Next comes a project led by The Sticks’ Iain Paxton. Hamilton Yarns’ music is soft mellotron-led magic. Where scrapers are percussion instruments and empty space is as important as pace.
This is subtle stuff where accordion, guitar and keyboards gently build and try to maintain their quiet dignity against revving motorbikes outside.
Resembling an abstract version of Boduf Songs and Palomica, theirs is a mildly haunting but strangely fulfilling sound.
Watching James Blackshaw humbly take to the stage in such a small venue gives you no sense of what is about to happen.
Opening with heavy transcendental harmonics of ‘Love Is The Plan, The Plan Is Death’ you’re not so much hearing music, but going on a journey.
His fingers meander across the guitar’s fretboard and strings like a river in through valley. Gentle from above, but powerful up close. The repeating patterns ‘We Who Sold the Dream’ are bursting with a Mediterranean hypnosis of a long summer’s day.
With his 13th album, Summoning Suns, Blackshaw takes the microphone and starts singing on two new pieces, ‘Confetti’ and ‘Nothing Ever After’.
Remarkably, his voice is an extra overtone on top of those he creates with a guitar. It’s a welcome addition and brings home the realisation that listening to James Blackshaw is like staring at a classic landscape painting.
What initially seems overwhelmingly beautiful contains a wealth of history and meaning within each brush stroke and splash of colour.
In the wake of Mark Kozelek’s recent onstage controversy and with indie-pop’s dominance of underground music, James Blackshaw shows there’s still life in the solo guitar.