The Trades Club, Hebden Bridge
Wednesday 6 November
Villagers take their unique brand of indie-folk to Hebden Bridge and Paul Clarke reports for Louder Than War.
The first moment Conor O’Brien opened his mouth the other Villagers must have known their band was going to be something special.
The audience at this intimate West Yorkshire venue had exactly the same experience as he unleashed those golden vocals strumming his way through a moving My Lighthouse.
It would be a mistake to just think this is the O’Brien show as the band are a well drilled unit who not only contribute top drawer playing, on a par with early Waterboys, but produce some glorious three point harmonies. There was a moment during a powerful Judgement Call when they all had huge smiles on their faces from the sheer joy of playing so well.
There was a mighty cheer for the anthemic Nothing Arrived which highlights Conor’s other great gift as he is a brilliant storyteller, if a little on the dark side. At times O’Brien disappears into that mystic place that his fellow Irishman Van Morrison seems to go in sometimes, and none more so than on Becoming A Jackal from their debut album.
There is a moment when the band’s computer failed so Conor asks for requests and someone shouts out for the Big O’s Crying. The diminutive frontman knocks off an impromptu version that keeps the spirit of this timeless classic, but is utterly unique.
They even threw in a new song Occupy Your Mind which Conor seemed to think was a bit rough round the edges, but is a cleverly constructed song that even at this stage dullards like Keane or Coldplay would sell their mothers to write.
The highlight of a stunning set was O’Brien’s solo reading of A Memoir telling the grim tale of a prostitute’s life that was reminiscent of Dylan’s Blood on The Tracks it was that good. Becky Unthank and Kloot’s John Bramwell were in the audience and that performance would have given even those big talents some food for thought. It was a storytelling double whammy coupled with the forlorn Twenty Seven Strangers proving he has a real gift for observing the foibles of human beings.
When you see a big, baldy middle aged man crying at the end it is little wonder that both Villagers albums secured Mercury nominations but the misery is how they were beaten by that tedious pillock James Blake. They should go round Blake’s house and retrieve the trophy this is rightfully theirs.
All words by Paul Clarke.