Tuesday, 5 August 2014

John Bramwell / David Ford / Dave Fidler - Holmfirth Picturedrome - 2nd August 2014


The picturesque setting of Holmfirth Picturedrome played host on Saturday night to an event loosely labelled "Singer Songwriter Splash".  We went along to see three of the finest proponents of that art form treat us to their own unique brand of what is associated with that catch-all tag.


Dave Fidler may be a new name to most readers, but he’s been on the Manchester music scene for a number of years as frontman of Bluebird Kid Clark as well as fronting his own band Dave Fidler and The Corvettes.  He’s been preparing his debut solo album I’m Not Here, due for release in September and produced by John Bramwell, and his set features most of the songs that will make up that excellent album.

Using the event’s slightly lazy label singer-songwriter doesn’t do Dave justice though.  He’s an extremely accomplished guitarist paying tribute to Tommy Emanuel on instrumental Stevie's Blues and it's that talent that immediately strikes you, transfixing you watching his fingers pick and pluck at the strings of his guitar.

There's much more depth to what he does though than that. He writes beautiful heartfelt emotional songs such as Easy Gone, Easy Come, which he explains is dedicated to his son Dylan as it ponders what sort of life he will have when he grows up - "will you find love in the eyes of a stranger, in a far off land full of adventure" and Song For Nico, which is about his young daughter and a father's protective instinct "I promise to be a shelter to you my babe, I promise to always protect you".

There's plenty of variety too in a short twenty-five minute slot from upbeat songs such as Silver Spoon and closer Taking Over to more reflective pieces such as Ailsa, a paean to someone going through some sort of trauma.

It takes a lot to stand out as one man and a guitar, particularly when faced with an audience that doesn't know of you and Dave Fidler, as he has done many times on his dates supporting John Bramwell this year, wins this audience over through sheer weight of his personality and the quality of his songs.

Dave Fidler played I’m Not Here, Easy Gone Easy Come, Stevie’s Blues, Ailsa, Silver Spoon, A Song For Nico and Taking Over.
David Ford is not what you’d imagine at one of these events.  He’s four albums and ten years into a solo career post his days in turn of the millennium angst popsters Easyworld and hasn’t quite got the acclaim his work has deserved.

He plays a series of songs from across those albums, with four tracks from last year’s self-released Charge.   He transforms those recorded versions into something quite different live, using loop pedals attached to guitar, harmonica, an improvised drum, self-built piano, a percussion box and a second microphone.

He starts with a simple but vitriolic Nothing At All – “how about a land of the brave, how about a land of the free” – using just the percussion box on a loop.  He slows down the first verse of Charge opener Pour A Little Poison with harmonica and simple acoustic guitar before changing the pace to breakneck as if he can’t wait to get to the end of the song.  It’s this ability to effortlessly rework and recreate his own songs that makes him such a special unique talent and probably one that’s just too complex for mainstream tastes.  

He’s an interesting character too, apologizing for being southern and referencing the recent pier fire in his home town of Eastbourne, joking about performing Bohemian Rhapsody on piano and introducing set-closer Every Time with a candid account of why he's happy with his lot as a musician driving round "in an inexpensive Japanese van with musical equipment of equal value".  

He really comes into his own when he makes full use of the loop technology he’s built.  The Ballad Of Miss Lily has a thrilling opening section as he sets up pretty much everything he has on stage through the loops including a filthy electric guitar that dismisses any notions that this is a polite acoustic event.  State Of The Union, from his debut album, is ten years old yet the rage it vents at the corrupt nature of the political system is equally, if not more, valid today, as he exhorts us to “take our seats for the final calamity” amidst a maelstrom of looped piano, guitar and vocals.  It's an apolitical song in the sense that it rails against all politicians rather than being targeted at a particular persuasion and is all the more powerful for it.

He can however easily slip into and out of traditional singer-songwriter territory. wringing every drop of emotion out of Isn’t It Strange armed with just an electric guitar. To Hell With The World and Song For The Road are beautiful declarations of love accompanied by just a piano, the former celebrating love whilst everything around him is in turmoil and the latter a joyous journey song about loving being on the road but looking forward to heading home to a loved one - "while poets try to engineer definitions of love, you know all I can think of is you" - at the end of the tour.

There is no one like David Ford in the music business.  He's a complete one-off, an enigma.  His slight social awkwardness on stage might be mistaken for arrogance, but he's one of the few genuine good guys in the business, untainted by a desire to be rich and famous and totally at ease with doing things his own way.

David Ford played Nothing At All. Pour A Little Poison, The Ballad Of Miss Lily, Isn’t It Strange?, To Hell With The World, State Of The Union, Song For The Road and Every Time.

Speaking of enigmas, the evening is headlined by John Bramwell, front man of I Am Kloot, probably the finest singer-songwriter, if we have to use that word, of his generation.  Shorn of the lavish arrangements of Kloot's later material and with the embers of that fire that lit up early I Am Kloot albums still burning vividly, his songs are stripped back to their very core for these series of acoustic gigs he's doing and what this brings into sharp focus is the sheer beauty and simplicity of his entire catalogue of songs.

A John Bramwell solo gig isn't merely about the music though, his engagement with the crowd brings them into the act, such as when he thanks Kathryn Williams for announcing him on to the stage by revealing a story she told him that she pretended to have given Tom McRae a blow job just before introducing him at a gig.  

Or when he announces there isn't a drinks interval at this show but that people should feel free to go to the bar as long as they get him one while they're there. Or even after the audience has provided a lilting sing-along to the end of Northern Skies, he commends them for not doing it as if it's a Mumford And Sons song before dismissing them as public schoolboys whilst doing an impromptu impersonation of their style.  

There's plenty of this throughout the set, at one point he jokes "there will be songs, for those of you who were wondering" but it makes the whole event far more entertaining that a guy just standing there singing his songs.

He cuts a slightly disorganised demeanour on stage, making his set up as he goes along (which makes for a different set every night) from a list of printed songs he can't read if it's on the floor and his constant retuning of his guitar over which he delves into his vast pool of stories, just add to that feeling that every gig is something different, something special.  But whereas this would detract from many performers, it simply adds to his mischievous character.

Of course, there's the songs.  From the slightly deviant love song Twist and the bizarre events of 86 TVs through the dark isolation of Storm Warning and Astray and the alcohol haze of To The Brink to the more optimistic wistful beauty of Shoeless and Masquerade.  Ferris Wheels is stripped back and slowed down and transformed into something of rare emotion.  He also caters for the casual Kloot fan with some of their best known songs Northern Skies, I Believe, To You and set-closer Proof where everyone joins in to sing the outro.

There's plenty of front men of bands or ex-bands doing this acoustic tour circuit at present, but none of them come close to matching John's roughshod charm and engaging personality.  An evening in the company of John Bramwell is so much more than your traditional gig - you'll smile, laugh, sing along and go home thoroughly enchanted.

John played No Fear Of Falling, To The Brink, 86 TVs, Morning Rain, Fingerprints, I Still Do, Masquerade, Storm Warning, Shoeless, Northern Skies, Astray, Twist, Dark Star, Bullets, Gods And Monsters And I Believe followed by an encore of To You, Ferris Wheels and Proof.

Dave Fidler's website can be found here.  He is also on Twitter and Facebook.  His album I'm Not Here is due for release in September.

David Ford’s website can be found here.  He is also on Twitter and Facebook.  He is on tour in November and December with a string section for some special shows.

John Bramwell's website can be found here.  He is also on Twitter and Facebook.  His acoustic tour continues through August, September and October and details can be found on his website as new dates are regularly being announced.  A CD "Live At The Trades" is available exclusively from the shows.  Unofficial updates are also available at @iamklootclub on Twitter.
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