A rare opportunity to see two sensational singer-songwriters share the stage on the beautifully balmy last evening of summer was not to be missed, even when it meant a 460-mile round trip. Newhampton Arts Centre, the NAC, was full of expectant music-lovers, comfortably seated for what was to become a memorable night of entertainment. First to take to the magnificent stage (the NAC, an independent charity with no regular funding, boasts state-of-the-art stage and sound facilities made possible by the support of the community who use it and generous donations from supporters such as musician and philanthropist Damen Albarn), and thrilling the audience with the very apt sound of the Earth, Wind and Fire track ‘September’ was local artist Dan Whitehouse.
Whitehouse had a lot of home-grown support in the audience and was fuelled by it immediately. He stunned the audience with his opening song, ‘Close Up’, an emotional story of a blind refugee, co-written with his fellow performer tonight and label mate, Boo Hewerdine, and tenderly performed. Highlights of the set were many, including several new songs. There was ‘Remembering’ with its charming double bass intro. ‘One More Year’, a song from Whitehouse’s new album due out March 2020, will feature the bewitching sound of a flugelhorn – hummed in this instance albeit to a lesser effect – also has a subtly alluring ‘off-the-stool’ moment surely appealing to any diehard boyband fans. The back story to ‘Teach You How to Fly’ had Whitehouse himself welling up as he laid out the painful background to this wonderfully graceful ballad. Whitehouse songs have a tendency to tug at the heartstrings, and while there was a decent proportion of that signature-style throughout the set, there was also a dose of humour when he amused the crowd with the hilarious sex-education lesson that is ‘The Old Savoy’. Quite a departure from Whitehouse’s usually soberer, mellow style and the freedom of expression suited him.
Accompanied throughout by eloquent bass player, John Parker, who himself has a fascinating musical history, Whitehouse’s guitar playing on the familiar song ‘Somebody Loves You’ was just lovely with the delicate use of the bow on the bass, sublime. With a strong back catalogue to draw on, choosing his set can’t have been easy but, fittingly, to end his set and seamlessly blend the two halves of the night together, Whitehouse was joined on stage by Hewerdine, and the pair beautifully performed one of Hewerdine’s older songs from his days with The Bible, ‘The Birds are Leaving’. Stunning.
After a short break and some topping up of refreshments from the bar, the eager crowd returned for the second half of the evening.
Accompanied to begin with by only his guitar, Boo Hewerdine took to the stage in his own inimitable way and in an instant, had the audience relaxed into their chairs, not only with his heavenly vocals but also his self-deprecating humour and timeless delivery. His set was a feast of old songs mixed with new and regular accompaniment from Whitehouse on guitar and harmonies, not to mention some interesting percussion, brought atmosphere and beauty to such favourites as ‘Murder in the Dark’ and ‘Bell Book and Candle’.
Several new songs delighted the listeners. ‘Silhouette’ and ‘Last Rays of Sun’ both feature on ‘Before’, the latest album release from Hewerdine which adds to his already incredible library of work as does ‘Old Song’ – which wouldn’t be out of place on a Top Ten Tunes of Wartime. Hewerdine has a vast treasury of delightful, top-drawer songs at his fingertips so he doesn’t really need to cover the likes of ‘Moon River’. Beautiful as it was, with a funny tale to boot, his originals are what the audience wants to hear as was demonstrated when he asked if there were any requests. Hewerdine’s ‘Graceland’ was the song of choice with Whitehouse ably accompanying on a coffee jar. Having written for many established artists, perhaps Hewerdine’s most recognisable work to date is ‘Patience of Angels’. Originally written for The Bible but made famous by Eddi Reader in 1994 and a Boo Hewerdine set would not be the same without the much-loved audience-participation song and this evening was no different.
Whitehouse and Hewerdine are both with Reveal Records. A very astute move by Tom Rose bringing together two strong wordsmiths and vocalists who complement each other wonderfully.
Photography by kind permission of Chris Close.