This is John's seventh appearance at the Trades Club in two years and it's where he recorded his live solo album Live At The Trades, but it's clear from the welcome he gets as he comes onto stage that the love is mutual. He cracks a quip that all his jokes will be old to everyone, although he laughs to himself at one point he's trying out new material as it's the first night of the tour, but misses the point as to why people keep coming back to these shows. Beautifully intimate, no two Bramwell shows approach being the same. He doesn't have a setlist, just a list of songs and takes suggestions from the audience and allows himself to be distracted by whatever comes into his head between songs. Support came from Dave Fidler.
Dave Fidler supported John on last year's tour and has been invited to open up again. The obvious camaraderie and mutual admiration between the two is evident in the fact that John introduces Dave and vice versa. His set is focused on his debut album I'm Not Here, a set of deeply personal songs about family and life experiences that, combined with Dave's easy-going engaging nature, makes it easy for him to connect with an audience that, as is common at most of John's gigs, gives the support act due respect.
His guitar playing style, influenced by greats such as Tommy Emanuel, is something to behold as well as you get transfixed to watching his fingers work their magic on the guitar strings, whether it be the likes of singles Easy Gone Easy Come or set-closer Taking Over or Tommy, an instrumental tribute to the aforementioned Emanuel.
But it's a new song, Love Listens, that really grabs us and suggests that Dave's second album, or one of his multiple ongoing projects, will be something genuinely special. It's laced with possibilities even in acoustic form, a longing yearning melody and a lyric "Money talks but love listens" that's both simple in its construction yet all-encompassing in its reach although it's still very much stripped back here.
After a short break John takes to the stage. Throughout his career John has been responsible for some of the finest crafted songwriting of these times. Loved by his peers but often ignored by the industry and press because of his refusal to pander to their bullshit games, "I'm loose, I'm weird, I'm wild" he tells no one in particular, the crowd listen in reverence to songs that span the fifteen years of I Am Kloot as well as two nods back to his previous life as Johnny Dangerously a quarter of a century ago. The fact you'd struggle to carbon date Black And Blue or The Great Escape from 1989 against Mouth On Me from 2014 is testament to the enduring nature of his work.
The songs make the transition from band format to acoustic perfectly, unsurprising as they were primarily written that way. But rather than just simply recreate them that way, John twists and turns them, never letting the songs stand still. It's the more recent songs that benefit most from this as well, the songs from Sky At Night and Let It All In stripped of their accoutrements and taken back to their raw ingredients. Sometimes though, it's just a subtle change to the words, sometimes intentional, sometimes possibly not, but when Storm Warning is slowed down and the words given extra emphasis or The Same Deep Water As Me concludes to the sound of a sharp, lingering acoustic guitar, they feel even more dark and intense.
We see both the dark and light side of John tonight as well. He touchingly dedicates Astray to his sister Alison in the audience and recalls her telling their father to "make him stop" when he played guitar as a young boy and also he gets her up to sing the encore of The Beatles' Rocky Raccoon with him. He also tells us of how he discovered that two of his childhood heroes Graham Hill and Eric Morecambe used to be mates and would drink in Morecambe's Rolls Royce after grand prix, before leading the audience in a rendition of Bring Me Sunshine. And whilst he continually refers to telling the same stories over and again, they're so endearing and he ad-libs based on the crowd reaction that this is never an issue.
On the other side, in the second half there's a couple of points where his edginess has the crowd not knowing how to respond such as when he tells us someone recently asked him why he'd dressed like Jeremy Corbyn to which he responded he didn't know who he was at the time and then tells us of his distrust of all politicians as nothing ever changes or when he laments the standard and integrity of musical journalism with some cutting barbs. He's extremely self-deprecating too, at points to the extent that the audience aren't sure whether to laugh or not.
An evening with John Bramwell could never ever be described as dull. You'll sing along, find something you can relate to in his words, laugh, cheer and occasionally be shocked or surprised. When the audience sing along to Northern Skies, To The Brink or Proof, there's genuine connection, a feeling that these emotions are not that weird or dark at all just something that we all go through and can relate to. And that's why he's acclaimed, by people who truly love music and his peers, as one of the finest songwriters of his generation.
Each and every John Bramwell experience will be different, from the songs played to the stories told. Tonight's show is, for once, low on audience participation other than a few song requests which John plays, but what this does is to focus on the quality of the songs. And it's impossible to deny their sinister beauty.
With fellow Kloot band member Pete Jobson appearing in Guy Garvey's touring band and John recently giving away a new solo song Time's Arrow to his website's mailing list, these shows look likely to extend well into 2016.
John played I Believe, Gods And Monsters, Mouth On Me, No Fear Of Falling, Because, 86 TVs, Morning Rain, Astray, Sold As Seen, Black And Blue, Shoeless, The Great Escape, Storm Warning, Fingerprints, I Still Do, The Moon Is A Blind Eye, The Same Deep Water As Me, Bullets, Over My Shoulder, Some Better Day, Masquerade, Northern Skies, To The Brink, From Your Favourite Sky, Proof and Rocky Raccoon.
Unofficial updates are also available at @iamklootclub on Twitter who kindly supplied the two lead photos on this piece.
His tour continues, with Dave supporting, at the following venues :
19 - Norwich Arts Centre
24 - Cockermouth The Kirkgate
25 - Birmingham The Institute
26 - Cambridge Junction
29 - Chester Telford's Warehouse
30 - Preston Continental
31 - Bristol Louisiana
5 - Munster Pension Schmidt
6 - Amsterdam Paradiso
12 - Leipzig UT Connewitz
13 - Berlin Privatclub
14 - Hamburg Knust
19 - Cologne Stadtgarten
20 - Brussels Bazaar Festival
21 - Wiesbaden Schlachthof
3 - Putney Half Moon
5 - Liverpool Philharmonic
6 - York The Basement
10 - Leicester The Musician
11 - Milton Keynes The Stables
12 - Reading South Street
13 - Manchester Deaf Institute
14 - Manchester Deaf Institute
15 - Putney Half Noon
18 - Newcastle Cluny
19 - Edinburgh The Mash House
20 - Glasgow Hug And Pint
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