Geraint Watkins, Troubadour, London, 25th November 2019

Geraint Watkins’ gig at the storied Troubadour was one of the strangest performances I have seen. I could not decide whether I was watching something brilliant or a slowly unfolding disaster. In the event, I decided it was leaning to the former. What was at issue was that Watkins — a veteran musician who has backed the likes of Van Morrison, Mark Knopfler and Paul McCartney — was producing wonderful music from something of a shambles of a stage presence.

It may have been deliberate. At one point, he amused his rapt audience by telling his band with some amazement: “Hey, we all finished together that time“. At another point, however, Watkins ditched a song because he could not tune his ukulele. In effect, it was all a bit like watching a rehearsal — which is strange given he is on a long tour. There was also a pub-band element to it, which may be what it was geared for.

None of this should be taken as meaning the gig was not worth it, or that you should skip him if he comes to town. The music, as I said, was wonderful. I should note at this point that I was only able to catch the first half because of a prior engagement. So, what I saw was primarily focused on Watkins’ latest — and rather entertaining — album ‘Rush of Blood’.

Mainly playing keyboards, he ran through a set list comprising ‘Another Day Over’, ‘Hold Back’, ‘I Got the Blues’, ‘Heaven Only Knows’, ‘Middle of the Night’, ‘On the Nside’ and ‘Rush of Blood’ before grabbing his pint and heading off for a break.

Watkins has his own style, but also enough range to occasionally remind you of someone else. The sultry ‘I Got the Blues’, for example, brought Otis Redding to mind; there was a little Nick Cave in ‘Middle of the Night’; and Van Morrison could be heard in ‘On the Nside’. My favourite, both live and on the album, is ‘Rush of Blood’, which Watkins elevates to a level that in the old days would have been a major “hit”. Who knows, these days? Altogether, the songs ran the gamut from blues to country and folk balladry, making for a set that never bored.

Watkins, who wrote all the songs (sometimes with collaborators), is clearly the band’s musical boss, but I would be doing a disservice not to mention the near-dominance of Martin Winning, whose honking sax and melancholic clarinet pretty much made the evening.

The venue helped as well. For those not familiar with Troubadour, it has been a jazz and folk club since 1954 and has featured Dylan, Hendrix, Paul Simon ,Keith Moon, Charlie Watts, Sandy Denny and, more recently, Adele and Ed Sheeran.  Its historic cellar was perfect for Watkins and his band, which also included Oliver Darling (guitar), Paul Riley (bass) and Malcolm Mills (drums). All are highly accomplished and — despite the “shambles” — managed to finish together.

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