For those who seek out excellent music in intimate surroundings the upstairs lounge in Aberdeen’s Blue Lamp is a place to check out. Tonight’s show, from the opening set by Scottish duo Doghouse Roses which was followed by almost two hours from the excellent Nathan Bell, proved that as venues and shows go they don’t come much better! For those not familiar with them, Doghouse Roses comprise Paul Tasker and Iona Macdonald who serve up, in their own words, “primarily folk music,” but that description doesn’t really do their art justice. Between McDonald’s powerfully expressive vocals and Tasker’s high-quality guitar playing, you have a very talented duo who set the scene wonderfully for what was to come later. Playing a number of new songs along with tracks like the excellent ‘To Decide’ from their 2016 album ‘Lost is Not Losing’ and ‘Woodstock’ (from their 2010 album ‘This Broken Key’) which describes the somewhat quirky story of a whirlwind romance that took place around the time of the fabled 1969 festival, they produced a high quality set that was greatly appreciated by the audience who had packed into the snug confines of the Blue Lamp lounge.
After that great start from Doghouse Roses the night then belonged to the outstanding Nathan Bell. With the opening two songs, ‘Black Crow Blue’ from the 2011 album of the same name followed by ‘Brushy Mountain’ from 2017’s ‘Love>Fear (48 Hours in Traitorland),’ Bell already had the audience spellbound. Aided by the intimacy of the venue and by his engaging storytelling between songs, he produced a masterful display of the art of the singer/songwriter and on this showing, it is easy to see why he was voted Male Performer of the Year of 2017 in the Americana UK readers poll.
Time seemed to stand still as the rest of the first half of the set floated past with tracks such as ‘A Day Like This’, ‘My Kid’ and the title track from his current release ‘Loves Bones and Stars, Loves Bones and Stars ’ captivating the audience. After a short break, proceedings kicked off again with the wonderful ‘I Would be a Blackbird’ before moving on to ‘Coal Black Water,’ a powerful statement regarding the totally hideous and hopelessly inefficient mountain top removal mining techniques that not only leaves repugnant scars on the Appalachian Mountains but has badly contaminated public water supplies. This was an especially topical and pertinent political point given the promise of the current incumbent of the White House to “…bring back coal…”.
For those who aren’t able to get to see Nathan Bell on this UK tour his second album release of 2018, ‘Er gwaetha pawb a phopeth (In Spite of Everyone & Everything),’ which was recorded live from Cwitch Coffee, at Pembroke Dock in Wales, will give you a little taste of his live performance. However, nothing beats the engagement and the wonderful immediacy of being up close and personal in a live gig to hear the earthy, emotive voice and brilliant guitar picking of one of the great troubadours plying his trade at the present time. It’s a good sign when you look at your watch at the end of the gig and are utterly astounded at how much time has passed since the night started! Hopefully, Martin Raitt of Almost Blue Promotions can lure Nathan back to Aberdeen next time he visits the UK. Get out and see him if you can; his show is not to be missed.