Paul Smith + Gravenhurst @ The Glee Club, Birmingham – 28th November 2010


Opening solo act, Gravenhurst, aka Bristolian, Nick Talbot, on guitar and a foot-forest of effects pedals was rather peculiar. Giving the appearance of the stereotypical, bespectacled, lank-haired college geek, but very far from it, his self-penned songs explore dark places with dystopian Gormenghast-like imagery and are far removed from the Folkie archetype. Imagine Robert Wyatt’s phrasing and isolation in ‘Shipbuilding’ and you get some idea. The set ended with what he described as a bit of a shorter jam than usual because we’d been so polite as to listen to him. Essentially it imploded with apocalyptic de-tuned, atonal multi-pedal mayhem. The lyrics were moodily Gothic. ‘The End’ was an inevitable comparison. What his full band line-up get up to we await in trembling anticipation – 2011.


The Glee Club deserved its title on this bitter, early Winter’s, evening with a warm reception at the box office and even the doorman anxious to get us in out of the cold. The audience were likewise disposed, not reverential but certainly attuned to the ambience.

Paul Smith (yes, Maximo Park, that one) is a self-effacing performer, his song-writing is introspective, heart-on-sleeve candid, but not indulgent; reflective but never maudlin. (Though some album critics have claimed the latter, particularly with ‘Strange Friction’). Literary, with contemporary Pop subtle nuances and empathic sensibilities: melancholic and ambiguous? Perhaps. His is a craft that reminds this reviewer, at least, of those more innocent days of quintessentially English compositions from the likes of Martin Stephenson & The Daintees, Stephen Duffy’s Lilac Time and Prefab Sprout.


The performance drew principally on songs from Smith’s 2010 album, ‘Margins’ through out which his engagement with the audience was warm, effusive and inclusive. Likewise, they were affectionate in their forgiveness when he fluffed a couple of songs. Crafty stage ruse that, Paul, show your venerability and they cuddle you all up.

I’m bidden to say that his voice has echoes of, but with far less vibrato, early Brian Ferry (the North East lilt?) and drawing the comparison further, the intelligent use of counter-beat rhythmic arrangements and shifting time signatures together with the ethereal keyboard harmonies, had suggestions of Roxy Music. Some songs saw Smith really exposed, his breathing, pauses, sense of moment complimented and emphasised the fragile context of the song’s narrative, no more so that with ‘I Drew You Sleeping’. His talent is to distill the every day ephemera, the ebb and flow of relationships and expose the essence of the human condition: albeit cryptically at times.


But they could party though with the rice-wine heady, calypso swinging ‘This Heat’, or as Smith would have it, his Kiora rhythm song. Much more but too little space to elaborate. The encore broke with convention with Smith going solo. Well, he did the evocative ‘Pinballs’ with drummer/producer, Andy Hodson, on ukulele, and closed with a medley including ‘I Lost My Head/Apply Some Pressure’. A charming evening.

Stage set list: While,North Atlantic Dream, Crush, Improvement/Denouement, Alone, Strange Friction, I Wonder if, This Heat, A Little Lost, Drew You Sleeping, Tingles, Dare Not Drive, Our Lady Of Lourdes, Pinballs, Everybody Hurts. (improv medley).

Review – John Kennedy
Photos – Katja Ogrin

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