A Wednesday night in Newport was never going to attract the biggest crowd, but those who were there were treated to a show of excellent, even extraordinary performances. Local opening act Iolo Edger’s brief set had good songs sung with emotion, and some fine guitar playing. If this was, as he said, his first gig for two and a half years, he acquitted himself well in illustrious company.
Our Man in the Field, playing as a duo of Alex Ellis with Henry Senior on Pedal Steel and Dobro took the opportunity to share some new songs as well as highlights from their excellent ‘The Company of Strangers’ album. ‘Go Easy’ and ‘The Road’ both suggest that the album that Ellis has yet to record will be every bit as good as the last one. ‘Thin (I used to be Bulletproof)’ and ‘Stick Around’ and ‘Easy Going Smile’ were all good choices from ‘The Company of Strangers’ and the sparse album arrangements translated well to the two piece band of tonight. There is a warm intimate quality to Ellis’ music that worked well in the small room at Le Pub. Closing with another new song, ‘Come Back To Me’, about the sense of wanting to return to your roots over lockdown, was another taster for what we can expect from Our Man in the Field at some point, hopefully fairly soon.
Jerry Joseph, described by Ellis earlier as “mercurial” attacked the stage and his guitar with passion. So much so that by the end of second song, ‘Ship’ he was forced to borrow Alex Ellis guitar due to the broken strings on his own. Joseph played a set split mostly between his recent ‘The Beautiful Madness’ album and 2012’s ‘Happy Book’ which he said he has just rediscovered. The acoustic format suits Joseph, with his colourful, insightful words that sometimes get lost behind band arrangements on record being front and centre of the performance. There were lengthy explanations of each song which set them in context. Referring to colleagues like Patterson Hood, and Grateful Dead lyricist John Barlow, co-writer of ‘(I’m in love with) Hyrum Black’ the switch between the conversational feel of these introductions and the epic feel of the songs, even with just a voice and one guitar reflected his years on stage perfecting his craft. Stamping around the stage, singing without the microphone, and transforming the small Welsh bar into a festival stage, he never lost the connection to his small audience.
Joseph’s singing has an entirely different quality live compared to his records. There is a grit and a vibrancy that some of his albums don’t have. He was rejoined by Henry Senior to play Pedal Steel on ‘Dead Confederates’ a song about the removal of Civil War era statues, particularly one of Robert E Lee. Highlights of the set included ‘The Beautiful Dirt’, the opening song of his most recent album, ‘Days of Heaven’, and closing piece ‘Pink Light’ which was again attacked rather than sung.
Having driven 6 hours to get there, and with the prospect of a similar drive to Glasgow, either act might have been excused for taking a relaxed approach to the sparsely attended show, but the fact that we got full measure and beyond from both Our Man In the Field and Jerry Joseph speaks volumes for their commitment to their audience and their music. If you get a chance to see either of them on tour take it.
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