Deciding whether to catch the support artist or not can be a bit of a lottery. Stay in the bar and you risk missing out on something special, roll up and you can end up shuffling around and feigning interest as some plucky trier tests the limits of your attention span. Tonight’s winners were certainly those that abandoned their comfy seat in favour of catching Leicester based singer-songwriter Sophia Marshall. Formally one half of the Havenots, Marshall possesses a captivating voice which she put to fine use in delivering some beautifully crafted songs. Drafting in her band, the set began with the acapella ‘Drunken Sailor’ which immediately served notice that this was no ordinary performer. There then followed a series of exquisite compositions that deserve to be heard on a bigger stage. With the ability to write such wonderful songs as ‘Beauty Sleep’, ‘Sarah’s Room’ and the superb concluding ‘Wasted Days’, it might be questioned as to why Marshall decided to include three covers in her short set.
A local musician, reflecting on his many years spent playing gigs, once said from the stage “I’ve been fortunate enough to meet and share a stage with legends, some of whom are so legendary that most people have never heard of them.” It would not be unkind to say that Peter Bruntnell might well fit that description. A pioneer of British Americana and for most observers, still its finest exponent, the term ‘legend,’ to many readers of Americana UK will seem wholly fitting when applied to him. The chance to see him perform with a full five-piece band, including the also legendary B.J. Cole, could therefore not be missed.
Opening up with ‘Cold Water Swimmer’ Bruntnell set the bar high. The full-band arrangement was perfectly suited to this highlight of his 2008 album ‘Peter and the Murder of Crows’. Other old favourites ‘Here Come the Swells’ and ‘City Star’ were similarly re-invigorated and maintained the standard set by the opener. Bruntnell’s triumphant new album ‘King of Madrid’ was well represented as you might expect. ‘Dinosaur’, ‘Broken Wing’, ‘Thief of Joy’ and title track ‘King of Madrid’ all rolled effortlessly from the Bruntnell production line. Each sounded fresh and as vital as anything in his impressive back catalogue and amply demonstrated the level of quality control that Bruntnell applies to his work.
His affable character, humorous asides and friendly interaction with his audience is also an integral part of the Peter Bruntnell live experience. Tonight, there was a real warmth amongst the audience, borne out of Bruntnell’s music yes, but also the general recognition that he’s also a really nice bloke.
Peter Bruntnell has never stood still. His very earliest albums were more psychedelic than the subsequent country orientated sound that he is better known for. Tonight’s highlight shone a torch back to those early days. ‘Yuri Gagarin’ from the 2015 album ‘Nos da Comrade’, may not be such an old song, but delivered tonight as a scintillating psychedelic wig-out, it was an absolute gem and a reminder of those earliest days.
It is a tribute to Bruntnell’s enthusiasm, integrity and talent that he continues, after so many years, to put on shows of such stunning quality, often in front of modest crowds. A legend indeed.