With a new solo album on the horizon Chris Helme is out on the road again starting to play these new tracks as well as those from his 2012 debut The Rookery and ’90’s classics from The Seahorses .
Features Editor Sarah Lay reviews.
For a venue best known locally as the home of punk and metal Derby’s Hairy Dog has a beautifully mellow vibe for tonight’s acoustic show. The Friday night crowd may be well up for singing along to some ’90’s indie classics but they’re also chilled out enough to appreciate some quieter tunes from all three artists on the bill.
The Panama Scots open up tonight, only the second gig for this band and a pared back sound to play acoustically. With a strong musical heritage these new songs may still be rough around the edges but their charm shines through.
They’re followed by Liam Walker, tonight performing a solo set. Louder Than War tipped Liam as one of our artists to watch in this year’s list and we’re no less excited to hear more from him now than we were those few months back.
This evening he plays a set of gentle, Americana-infused folk that practically glows with warmth.
And then Chris Helme takes to the stage. There is an energy that resonates through Helme’s music and performance, whether it is the gently-picked sway of tracks from The Rookery, an introspective cover of The Faces or re-working Seahorses classics to delight the crowd.
Warming up with a cover we then get a subdued, brooding start with the dark but pastoral Blindeye. There is a rise and fall to this song, a flourish of picking, a swell of vocal that draws the listener closer.
Tonight there is a catch and growl to Helme’s voice. Far from diminishing the performance it only more firmly underlines the soul-stirring raw emotion of the songs. This is only heightened as he talks openly and honestly about his personal life and dedicates a cover of The Faces’ Ooh La La to his dad, encouraging the audience to sing-a-long.
We’re also treated to some new ones, a tantalising glimpse an even darker, heavier, Blues-infused sound. Whether this is typical of the next album time will tell but this is a promising teaser that what emerged as psych-tinged folk on The Rookery has been ramped up and spun out further on this next record.
New are joined by older solo tracks as we are treated to Yellow Lights and Lorelei from 2008 album Ashes, and Summer Girl and Pleased from The Rookery. The latter of these also benefits from that growl in the voice, with the lyric taking on a menacing but intoxicating air.
There are Seahorses songs of course too. Tonight we get Hello, You Can Talk to Me and Blinded By The Sun; a monkey clawing harder at Chris’ back today due to an outbreak of mass mild humour around the solar eclipse.
Many in the crowd know these songs the best and undoubtedly long for the nostalgia they bring but they don’t get recitals by rote, they get something really rather special.
In their infancy, at the tail end of Britpop, these songs were smoothed over, the imperfections retouched until we were dazzled by their surface. Swagger was the order of the day back then so we were satisfied. These were, after all, good songs in spite of the distracting sideshow of legend vs underdog stories surrounding the band gifting them to us.
But now, nearing two decades on, that surface is cracked and the gloss has crumbled away leaving us in no doubt that these songs are more beautiful stripped down than they ever were dressed up; that the very bones of them are what we’ve desired these many a long year. Delivered tonight with a voice so full of their essence it is on the verge of breaking, and a crowd full of love for singer and song, it is companionship rather than nostalgia which pervades.
This then is an intimate gig show where the light-hearted between song patter is contrast for the brooding melancholia, the yearn for love possible and past. Here is a songwriting talent fuelled by a genuine love of music, delivered by a voice that can be kind or cruel; a ravaged charm.
Those who have overlooked Helme have made an unfortunate loss, missing out on an enduring talent, masterfully maturing into alluring blues-folk from his indie heritage.
Next live dates for Chris are:
- 26 March – Carsons, Middleton
- 27 March – Canada Water Culture Space, London
- 28 March – Lichfield Arts Centre, Lichfield
- 8 April – Harpenden Public Halls, Harpenden
- 18 April – Malton Folk Festival, Malton
- 29 May – Krafty Brew Brewery, Edinburgh
- 30 May – XFEST, Sanquhar
- 6 June – Mosborough Music Festival, Sheffield
- 20 June – Buryfields Festival, Chesham
- 11 July – Corbridge Festival, Corbridge.
You can find The Panama Scots on Facebook.