William Crighton, Aces and Eights, London, 20th June 2019

Aces and Eights is a new patch in the North London demesne of Green Note, just a little north of its Camden Town HQ. There’s space for 50 people and tonight is a sell out – there are probably AUK readers with lounges as big as this room – so it’s undeniably intimate, a great setting for a solo singer with just an acoustic guitar. William Crighton is one of the relatively few artists to capture the sound and images of the Australian bush – a kind of midpoint between the cities and the outback – and perform it internationally. Any fan of The Triffids would appreciate the sound, style and lyrics, and there’s some clear common ground between the sparser regions of Australia and those of the USA or indeed Canada. Anyone who’s caught fellow Aussie ruralists Lachlan Bryan and the Wildes on this very website or on stage will also be on happy ground here.

Crighton’s lyrics pay frequent reference to the Australian landscape of patchwork settlements, farming communities, bars, long drives, pockets of heavy industry and, of course, heat. The latter somehow in keeping with Crighton’s Aussie drawl style of delivery. Some of his interviews hint at a spiritual connection with the land that the Native Australian culture is renowned for and he speaks of place names that can only have come from Australia – Wogga, Murrumbidgee, Kosciuszko.

Standing well over six feet tall and thickly bearded, it’s a brave reviewer who isn’t going to give Crighton a fulsome endorsement, but it’s fully merited. Tonight’s material was drawn from his two albums, in particular the 2018 offering ‘Empire‘. Opener ‘Fire in the Empire’ was as apocalyptic as the title suggests and with its references to red dust, muddy river and iron, it’s clearly an antipodean meltdown being narrated. It’s a stark and arresting wakeup call delivered with a stripped back intensity that pervades much of the set. ‘2000 Clicks’, one of the standouts, is in more reminiscent mood, Crighton relating how “I’ve been drinking like my mother” albeit apparently in his early to mid teens and “never far away from any trouble in town”.

Raised in a family of seventh day Adventists there is a deep theme of rebellion against some of their religious  practices. In ‘Jesus Blues’ he rails against the timing of the collecting plate being handed round just after the priest has given a fire and brimstone sermon warning of impending doom. Similar moral questions are posed in the powerful ‘Devil’s Tongue’ which musically has ‘Blood on the Tracks’ Dylan echoes. There was a mighty a capella tale of a man murdering a clergyman as a supposed act of salvation, narrated whilst on the run towards the mountains while expecting to be shot by his pursuers. ‘Riverina Kid’ was a melodic partner to ‘2000 Clicks’ and harks back in similar vein to Crighton’s youth though here there is a tragic outcome, a boyhood friend killed in a tragic domestic accident.

The encore included the Aussie standard ‘The Band Played Waltzing Matilda’, the poignant recital by a Gallipoli veteran of the First World War returning to Sydney as a double amputee and each year seeing the numbers of marching veterans decline as mortality bites. It was a powerful and original set and if the Australia to Europe trip can be sustained, Crighton is a charismatic and stirring performer to catch on tour.

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