Will Varley, Shepherds Bush Empire, London, 9th February 2018

It’s taken Will Varley nearly 15 years to cross Shepherds Bush Green, from where he used to play at Ginglik (a venue in a converted Edwardian public toilet at the other end of the roundabout) to the Shepherds Bush Empire, a venue he would pass walking home after playing there. Tonight Varley took to the Empire stage on his own with just his acoustic guitar and launched into ‘As For My Soul‘ and received an immediate response from the enthusiastic crowd with a sing-a-long on his first song of the evening.

He followed this with ‘Weddings and Wars’, his clear distinctive vocals filling the room and his thoughtful lyrics reflecting the human condition. During ‘From Halcyon’, Varley started to repeat a verse already sung before stopping with a laugh saying, “I did that verse, good start,” the only sign of nerves from a man playing his biggest headline show to date and standing alone on the stage.  The rapt and attentive audience did not seem to mind.

The show celebrated the release of his 5th album, ‘Spirit Of Minnie’, Varley’s first with a full band and his band came on stage to play ‘Statues’, a song from the new album. The band added a textured and layered sound to Varley’s guitar and did not detract from his vocals.  This song was very gentle and seeped into the listener as it progressed, leaving you feeling you already knew it by the time it reached the end.  Another new song followed, ‘All Those Stars’ and showed a much broader sound than Varley has on his own and this was put to good effect to intertwine with the lyrics while  ‘When You’re Gone’  worked well in this new setting. Varley then played one of his most powerful and poignant songs, ‘The Man Who Fell To Earth’. On the album, ‘Postcards From Ursa Minor’, this song is mesmerising and hypnotic with its stark arrangement but it lost none of its impact when it was played with the band, a very powerful moment and a stand out of the evening.

The players then departed the stage and left Varley to do what he does best, entertain with just his guitar.  He sang ‘Send My Love To The System’, a classic example of Varley’s social commentary and everyday lyrical imagery that could clearly be related to by the crowd who received it appreciatively. He threw the next tune to an audience vote, asking that those who wanted to hear a song about a cat to vote now (there were cheers) and those who wanted to hear a song about an email vote now (there were deafening cheers) though there was a clear winner.  The crowd favourite ‘I Got This Email’ followed, a prime example of how Varley can mix wit and politics into a song. The original song contained a verse with David Cameron and Nick Clegg in it and Varley managed to update this verse to feature Theresa May and Boris Johnson (including a hilarious Boris Johnson impression) and this got huge cheers and laughter from the crowd.

The band returned to play ‘Blood and Bone’ and several songs followed before the big sing-a-long tunes came out.  Varley spoke of the terrifying times we are living in and that the most terrifying part is that we all know we are being lied to before singing ‘We Don’t Believe You’, along with what sounded like everyone in Shepherds Bush Empire. Varley thanked everyone for keeping coming to see him before a solo performance with another huge sing-a-long from the devoted audience for another favourite, ‘King For A King’.

The band and Varley came back for a final song to send everyone on their way, the apt ‘Seize The Night’.  Midway through a cheer went up as Varley was joined on stage by a few friends, including Frank Turner to help sing this Varley anthem. As Varley sings in ‘As For My Soul’, “Come let’s light a fire, drink a beer and sing a song.”  Varley lit the torch paper tonight and based on tonight’s show, it won’t be long until many more people are having a beer and singing a Varley tune.

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