Simon Geoffrey Fowler + Merrymouth @ St Paul’s Gallery, 18-19th October 2011

A bright-eyed, and all together reinvigorated, vocally bushy-tailed Simon ‘Foxy’ Fowler (Ocean Colour Scene) brought to St. Paul’s Gallery, Jewellery Quarter, a consecutive two-night showcase of semi-acoustic new material performed alongside musicians/vocal/ harmonies, The Merrymouths. (The gallery, it should noted with all due reverence, is a Pantheon to many iconic, signed LP albums’ cover art.)

Eschewing a drummer, the rhythmic purr is more than capably embraced by acoustic bassist, Mike McNamara, whilst the austere but subtle chimes and occasional Hammond organ/Leslie cabinet effects swirls from keyboarder, harmonica, Adam Barry, are elegantly complimented and counterpointed by Emily Sander on violin/vocals. Of course the signature dynamic of Fowler’s interplay, complex structures of phrasing, key-shifts, harmony and lyricism are reassuringly fluent and gently reference but not impose on earlier material.

Song-writing duties were ably shared with Ben Sealey on acoustic guitar. Two notable numbers of his being, ‘Mr. Marshall’, a rousing, emotive Celtic flavoured air that could sit respectably within the Folk song cannon of laments to the 19th century Irish/Liverpudlian diaspora. Although when asked, Fowler conceded he hadn’t a clue (having need to read many of the lyrics from his music stand, that may well be true). He did suggest it could be a pro-war song. Great! The Daily Mail’s stringer, still smarting from Ian Brown’s rebuff at the Stone Roses press meet might well take revenge with a front-page splash : ‘Simon ‘Liam Foxey’ Fowler’ troubadour Warmonger!’ You just never know.

It was a disparate selection of songs, drawing on elements of Folk tradition as with, ‘Trees’ that rose to studied climax of anguish augmented by poignant violin refrains. It was an interesting feature of nearly all the songs that they were compact to the point of being surprisingly brief. No solos, no frills, let the songs do the talking. ‘Sweetest Words’ had teasing echoes of ‘Day We Caught The Train’ and the criminally neglected haunting B-side from years ago ‘What Ever Happened To The Beautiful Losers.’

With the apposite, touching cover, sympathetically adapted, ‘Courting Blues’, Fowler paid our dues to the recently deceased guitar maestro, Bert Jansch. Another Dan song, ‘Last Train But One’ introed with a distinctive homage to Lennon’s misanthropic, acidic guitar refrain from ‘Working Class Hero’. It’s a reflective, lament of parting and loss with an elegiac, melancholic dignity. By way of contrast, Dan’s ‘SummerTime’ was a ye-ha, up-beat jig all to do with romantic trysts in cosmopolitan Redditch. How rock ‘n roll is that?

“Prometheus’ was a dark affair with an anecdotal context relating to Fowler’s encounter with a stalker/fan carrying a massive scrap-book of OCS ephemera featuring a photograph of Mark Chapman. An acknowledged magpie peck at W.B. Yates verse was the inspiration for ‘Stolen’, with its enchanting, cryptic melodies. The main set closed with the oh so very brief number, ‘First Rites of Spring’. No doubt somewhere in that feisty furnace of Fowler’s muse there were references to Stravinsky and Botticelli’s Primavera and perhaps just a smidgeon of ‘As Tears Go By’?

Encores open with Simon solo on ‘Robin Hood/Circle’. A rare opportunity to hear and see these songs pared-down, allowing breath and simplicity to expose and exploit the exquisite craft of his song-writing. The subtlety of counterpoint, contrasting timing and emphasis really rank with some of the finest. Comparisons to some of Paul Simon’s/Neil Young’s guitar/vocal solo work are not lightly drawn.

The second night closes with the band re-united after we are treated to yet more anecdotes from Fowler ‘s book of un-repeatable anecdotal fables and phrases. We engage in a four-stomp/handclap rhythm to start-off ‘If You Follow’ with its gregarious tickles of McGuinness Flint’s ‘When I’m Dead & Gone’.

Setlist: Holy Day, Trees, Sweetest Words, Last Train But One, Courting Blues, Summertime, Prometheus, Stolen, Mr.Marshall, Shadow, Overhead, First Rite of Spring: Robin Hood, Circle, If You Follow.

Review – John Kennedy

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