Ten months after he wowed an audience at Celtic Connections, Nathan Bell returned to Glasgow as promised. In the interim he had ditched a proposed album of love songs, electing instead to record a modern protest album, Love > Fear (48 hours in traitorland). Appalled by the election of “a clown,” Bell was like a modern Woody Guthrie on the album, his tales of ordinary folk, ground down and abandoned, delivered with conviction.
If you follow his Twitter feed he’s an angry man, railing against the SCROTUS (So Called Ruler of the United States) and his lackeys and one was expecting some rants tonight. However, Bell didn’t stoop to name calling or pointing the finger. Instead he allowed his songs to speak to the situation with several of them punching his message home without grandstanding. In addition he leavened this with a fine dose of humour as he recounted tales of his early days in Nashville such as being set up with an “image consultant” or writing hit songs for soundtracks that somehow never got off the ground.
From the moment he opened with Black Crow Blue, Bell stamped his authority, the song a powerful reminder that he is first and foremost a songwriter able to invest his songs with a heart and soul. Goodbye Brushy Mountain followed with Bell using tape loops of his guitar conjuring up a spellbinding sound as he sang of a three time loser incarcerated in Tennessee’s oldest and grimmest prison. Throughout his set Bell burrowed into the heartlands. Names was a litany of soldiers who served and given a chilling delivery, Coal Black Water was a song worthy of Townes Van Zandt while Crow In Oklahoma was a dusty panoramic vision, a song cleft from an American heritage and redolent of Peter Rowan and Cormac McCarthy. Meanwhile, his foremost protest song, Raise Your Fist (dedicated to the three athletes who raised a black power salute on the winners’ podium at the ’68 Olympics) was delivered with a more resigned air than that of his appearance several months ago when he encouraged the audience to pump their fists in the air.
As we said earlier, Bell’s grim narratives sat side by side with some lighter moments. Gold Wedding Ring was a song written back in the mists of time, a golden ticket destined for a movie soundtrack. It didn’t happen but tonight’s rendition showed that he can deliver a jaunty folk song with some neat finger picking thrown in. He mentioned his love of blues as he launched into a very humorous tale of seeing Lightnin’ Hopkins back in the day before playing a song by his favourite bluesman, Sonny Terry along with several comments that revealed his fondness for our local football clubs. Having, again, wowed us, Bell offered up three encores starting with his blue collar anthem, Stone’s Throw which had a snippet of Springsteen’s Born In The USA thrown in for good measure. You Could Never Love Me (Like Beer Does) was a hoot while a lengthy monologue on the gentrification of Nashville came across like an Arlo Guthrie rap.
Throughout his lengthy set Bell had the audience enthralled. A hushed silence as he delivered his sparse tales and hearty laughter in response to his quips. It was a pleasure to spend some time in his company as he proved he is one of the most interesting and entertaining songwriters we currently have.
The support act was a Scotsman, raised in Portsmouth but now back home, Jack Henderson. Cradling a Fender Telecaster he played several intense songs including Catherine Wheel and This Daring Light, some of them reminiscent of Nick Lowe’s mature work. Despite a lack of variety in his delivery over the course of his set, most of the songs delivered at the same pace, he sang and played well and his forthcoming album will be well worth checking out.