Live Review: Ron Sexsmith at the Union Chapel, London – 16th May 2023

Ron Sexsmith Union Chapel 16 05 2023 image credit David Jarman

London’s Union Chapel was a suitably intimate venue for Ron Sexsmith‘s solo show, one of 6 UK dates, following an extensive Irish tour. Sexsmith was introduced by Bob Harris who recalled how they first met over 20 years ago, telling the audience the very high regard he holds him in as an artist and songwriter. Of course, the devoted audience of his fans needed no reminder of his talents which were amply demonstrated as he played two sets, covering his extensive back catalogue, but also featuring songs from his latest album release, ‘The Vivian Line’.

Sexsmith opened his set on acoustic guitar, with crowd pleasers ‘Former Glory’ and ‘Radio’ followed by ‘You Don’t Wanna Hear It’ from ’Hermitage’, before playing two songs from his new release, ‘Flower Boxes’ and ‘Country Mile’. Moving to the grand piano, Sexsmith mused on his own lockdown project – improving his skills on piano, rather than learning to bake sourdough bread – before playing ‘Pretty Little Cemetery’, recalling awkward questions from his young son, on one of many walks around said cemetery.

Introducing ‘Spring of the Following Year’, Sexsmith told his audience that the song reflected his feeling of optimism that the garden to his new home would indeed blossom, as spring succeeded winter. ‘Brighter Still’ concluded his short set at the piano. Returning to his guitar, Sexsmith introduced ‘Ribbon of Darkness’ as his personal tribute to Gordon Lightfoot, who passed away recently,  telling us that he was performing a different song penned by Lightfoot every night on his tour.

Following with ‘Just My Heart Talking’ and ‘What I Had In Mind’, Sexsmith shared with us what he described as a “lightbulb moment“ when working as a parcel courier – spotting the address on a parcel as ‘Lebanon, Tennessee’, providing the inspiration for this much-loved song off his second album, ‘Ron Sexsmith’.

Sexsmith finished his first set with a rendition of ‘In a Flash’, dedicated to the memory of Dallas Good, guitarist, and vocalist of the Sadies, who passed away earlier this year, and to Jeff Buckley, its poignant lyrics perfect for the tribute: “Our eyes can’t help but disbelieve this/ Bad news and even though/ The end must come for some good reason/ Right now I just don’t know/ In a flash, in a flash/ There one moment and gone in a flash.”

Sexsmith opened his second set with a trio of songs on piano – opening with ‘Speaking with the Angel’, from ‘Ron Sexsmith’, followed by ‘Every Time I Follow’, which he introduced as a special request – not a song, he told us, that he performed regularly as it is “too difficult“ – of course, he then delivered a flawless version, before getting one of the biggest cheers of the night for ‘Gold in Them Hills’, announced as the first song he ever wrote on piano –an impressive writing debut for sure!

Returning to his guitar, ‘Heavenly’ from ‘Long Player Late Bloomer’ was followed by two songs from his new album – ‘Diamond Wave’, which he told us was written on his birthday in 1988, and ‘This That and the Other Thing’, before a heartfelt rendition of perhaps his best-known song, ‘Secret Heart’, which he told the audience had been recorded by artists including Nick Lowe – present in the audience with his son Roy– and jokingly adding Bing Crosby to the illustrious list who had covered the song.

Audience favourite ‘Strawberry Blonde’ from his 1997 album ‘Other Songs’ found him in storytelling mode, convincing as he sang “Springtime and dandelions and summer around the corner/ Was at the tail end of age nine with a million dreams before her/ She lived with her mother in an old decrepit house/ If there was trouble at home she kept it to herself/ All summer long the strawberry blonde”.

‘Get in Line’ from ‘Long Player Late Bloomer’ was followed by ‘Hard Bargain’ before two songs from his latest album, ‘One Bird Calling’ and ‘When Our Love Was New’, the latter a particularly fine addition to his canon —an ode to the way love matures over the years “When our love was young/ As young as the springtime/ We were always on the run/ Now it slows to a sweet time/ Little did we know/ We were old souls from the start/ Although our love was young/It was ancient in our hearts.”, before a fitting finale of ‘Sneak Out the Back Door’ “Well I never been good at goodbyes/ I’m gonna sneak out the back door”.

Returning to the piano for the first of his encore songs, Sexsmith responded to one of many audience requests for ‘Brandy Alexander’, before concluding a memorable evening with ‘There’s a Rhythm”, and, another request, ‘Trains’ from 1991’s ‘Grand Opera Lane’ album.

A great show from one of the greatest songwriters of his generation.

About David Jarman 117 Articles
Long time fan of Americana genre, from early days of Ry Cooder, through to today's thriving scene. Regular visitor to USA ( Nashville/Austin/Memphis/LA ) live music junkie, I play guitar, mandolin, harmonica, plus vocals, run monthly jam session in Broadstairs
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