As they had an hour earlier for support Alex Carson, the sounds of cans cracking open greeted Tyler Ramsey as he made his way on stage at this wonderfully intimate London venue. Tyler Ramsey is tall and rangy, with a beard almost as long as his hair but when he strapped on his acoustic guitar it becomes obvious that here was a man who was here to play. Launching immediately into the extended instrumental ‘Raven Shadow‘ showed off his fantastic finger-picking, and when it merged seamlessly into ‘1,000 Blackbirds‘ Tyler Ramsey filled the pin-drop silent space with evocative music that felt as old as the building it was being performed in. There’s a true mystical folk imagery to the refrain “I call a thousand Blackbirds to come raining from the sky, three hundred for your trouble, three hundred one for mine, and for the pain I caused you three hundred ninety nine”, it just hangs there starkly as his guitar notes ring out.
He followed this by hooking up his harmonica rack and soulfully channelling early Neil Young on the half strummed, half picked ‘Valley Wind‘, which in pace and lyrics has a real ‘After the Goldrush‘ feel to it: full of oblique asides and commentary from the start: “He’s been trying to keep up with his friends again now someone’s got to stay and take care of him / Am I the one ? / It looks like I’m the one“. It sounds strikingly original and oh so familiar at the same time. His new album, ‘For the Morning‘, isn’t neglected – a full eight songs across the evening are taken from it, starting with ‘Cheap Summer Dress‘ which muses on the nature of love and the letting go when the ideal turns out not to be and there’s the melancholy of a passing away of love. Its lightness doesn’t disguise the darkness of the emotions.
Tyler Ramsey had little to say between songs – which he acknowledged with a repeated comment that he just wanted to play, that we and the venue were so perfect that he felt he could just play and it would be ok. It was more than ok. Tyler Ramsey may have left Band of Horses now, but his solo music is so strong that there’s no need to shed a tear over that – his sparkling imagery and intense musicality is more than compensation for any imagined loss.
After a short interval, and as the dark descended outside, percolating through the church’s windows, Tyler Ramsey reinforced that Neil Young feel by switching to upright piano for the plaintive ‘No one goes out Anymore‘ that captured the sadness of a band breaking up, of a relationship ending, of things changing as one starts to age. It’s a song that a million romantics could embrace as the story of their life. Not that it should be imagined that Tyler Ramsey wallows in self-pity, there’s an acceptance of the twin draws of the road and of home on ‘Dream of Home‘ – sure, maybe he has to be away more than he’d like, but he has to try and live both paths – and he does get to go home. Before this valedictory set closer there’s more of that gorgeous finger picking on the combined ‘Darkest Clouds/Firewood‘ which rings every bit of silence out of the room through the mesmerising ‘Darkest Clouds‘ before the lonesome echoes of ‘Firewood‘ which has Ramsey selling a dream of a better life in the face of the oncoming cold reality of a bleak winter.
For someone so soft-spoken and almost reticent in sharing his spoken thoughts Tyler Ramsey has an amazing presence – few artists can grip an audience so perfectly as they single-handedly spin tales of things not working out, falling apart, of dreams fading and a series of regretful endings. And as he returned for his encore, acknowledging the rapturous applause, he settled in to give us as much music as he possibly could, first with a reworked ‘Back on the Chain Gang‘, made breathlessly soft, before the final ‘Long Dream‘ which summoned up again the combination of joyful guitar playing and, literally, dream images of escape and renewal. Tyler Ramsey is something quite special amongst the current crop of singer-songwriters – you’ll want to hear him, and then you’ll want to hear him again as soon as possible.