John Paul White @Celtic Connections. The Mackintosh Church, Glasgow: 1st February 2017

It was a sold out show for John Paul White’s first visit to Glasgow since the collapse of the Grammy award winning The Civil Wars, an episode mired in some mystery as he and Joy Williams imploded. Since then he’s kept a low profile, setting up his record label and producing an excellent album by the legendary Donnie Fritts. Back in September of last year however a solo album, Beulah, was released. An album of bittersweet Southern grooves and creamy country rock Beulah was taken by some to be a veiled response to the breakup of the band.

Tonight’s show (according to White his first solo performance in ten years) certainly had its fair share of regret and hurt in the songs (as he said tonight, “I do sad…”) with his opening number, a brief rendition of I Remember You (a hit years ago for Frank Ifield and Slim Whitman) possibly him closing the door on speculation. His excellent rendition of Black Leaf with its theme of recrimination was lovely although slightly chilling, his excellent finger picking and clear voice more than making up for the lack of the band arrangement.

White sounded somewhat wonderful in this old church which despite it’s somewhat sterile atmosphere leant itself to the acoustics. I Will Make You Cry was like an outtake from a lost Simon & Garfunkel album as was I Hate The way You Love Me with White tenderly reaching out to the audience. Fight For You was a more forceful performance with White’s vocals gaining a dangerous edge along with his thrashing guitar before the grim Hope I Die was delivered, the one song tonight that lost some of its edge in the solo acoustic setting. Death reared its head again on Simple Song which White recorded for the Dave Cobb compiled Southern Family album and, as he explained tonight, was inspired by his grandmother’s efforts to cope with her husband’s alcoholism, again it was delivered with a hushed reverence with White paying tribute to the hall once the song was finished. Next however his gutsy rendition of What’s So paid little heed to the surroundings as he delved into his swampy Southern groove for what was the last song of his official set. Remaining on stage White proclaimed his dislike of encores before offering up a delicate cover of Dan Seals’ Everything That Glitters (Is Not Gold) and then his stripped down rendition of ELO’s Can’t Get It Out Of My Head, both songs a vehicle for his vocal prowess. He ended with his reclamation of a Civil Wars song, If I Didn’t Know Better, a song the duo recorded for the TV show Nashville, delivered with a fine country swing and accorded a standing ovation.

There was a host of beaming faces as the crowd left the venue but earlier some were not so happy with the situation as the set up was more reminiscent of a church fair. The bar was a trestle table with bottled and canned drinks somewhat overpriced while the Portaloo’s provided resulted in lengthy queues. The Mackintosh church might be a lovely building but there’s some work to be done when hosting a concert.

Author: Paul Kerr

Still searching for the Holy Grail, a 10/10 album, so keep sending them in.

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