When an artist decides to get back on the treadmill and to reconnect with the audience, and maybe restate why they are important in the first place, it probably makes sense to concentrate on the familiar and to get those people on side. In his usual contrary style Badly Drawn Boy seemed to be risking both those things tonight.
BirminghamTown Hall is a fine venue; a tremendous building and a great auditorium for the right kind of music. I left tonight’s gig with the lingering doubt that it was not really the right kind of venue for the latest date on the Badly Drawn Boy tour of the seminal The Hour of Bewilderbeast album.
That isn’t meant to take anything away from Damon Gough. As usual he was a mixture of disorganisation and understated expertise. Disorganisation was front and centre tonight as both he and his band of only five weeks familiarity were late. When he came on there was no mention of this. As a result he got the typical Brummie welcome. In other words the “you’re here now so you’d better impress us” attitude. Thankfully as the gig built up he certainly did that.
He seems to delight in coming over as some bloke who just wandered on to the stage to belt out a few tunes but you know that there is a huge backbone of talent and professionalism under the trademark woolly hat. However he spent a lot of the first part of this two-part gig being somewhat remote from the audience who, sitting down, seemed unsure what to do. In fact everything seemed too sedate. As the second half showed, people wanted to be up and dancing and to be much nearer to him. He seemed to warm to this and got into the more popular and more accessible tunes like About a Boy and Silent Sigh; the money-makers, as he has previously called them.
Fifteen years ago The Hour of Bewilderbeast beat Coldplay into second place to win the Mercury Prize. It’s easy to forget the impact that the album had at the time; as much for the prickly nature of our incongruous singer/song-writer as for the calibre of the musicians attracted by the quality of his songs. To name a few: Jimi Goodwin, Jez and Andy Willams, and Rebelski, AKA Doves played on that album as did Spencer Birtwhistle from The Fall; and Matt McGeever and Sam Morris from Alfie. Some of Manchester’s finest at the time rolled out to be involved.
Although he seemed to find this first half a bit of a slog, mainly because of the general atmosphere, I actually preferred The Hour of Bewilderbeast to the greatest hits second half. The album borders on the concept with the little instrumental bits that join the main songs together.
Even though his later tunes have eclipsed most on show there are some marvellous songs here and as the set went on he got more into it, more vocal with the audience and getting on with showing his trademark truculence. One messed up ending was greeted with a curt “ better to enjoy it and fuck it up than not enjoy it at all” and one roadie was regaled with a few expletives for being the guy who was “paid 200 quid a day just to move that monitor; c***”.
He has been through the mill in his personal life but that seems to be in the past. His new girlfriend was in the audience and took part in the impromptu “disco” that developed in the second half, and he seemed happy to say that things were better and that he wanted to get back to being the country’s number one songwriter.
In the past I have seen him just being himself with a guitar and a Thunder Road backing tape for company and he has been unbelievably good. Tonight he was good, maybe good enough for the time being and I hope he gets back soon to where he wants to be.
Review: Ian Gelling
Photographs: Stephanie Colledge