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Sunday, 23 September 2012

Chris Helme - The Burns - 21/09/12 (Irvine)

It must seem like a long hard road travelled from performing at the opening ceremony of the Olympics, to then be asked to open a gig upstairs in a pub in Irvine, but Sean Kennedy takes the roller-coaster ride of playing original music to the public in his stride with considerable professionalism, and a refreshing lack of ego.
I suspect that regardless of what stage Sean finds himself on that he simply sees it as an opportunity to win some new fans over, and that's something he certainly manages to do on a regular basis.
It would be easy to lay claim that he is ill deserving of being the first performer to take the stage at what was the debut outing for the fledgling Baile Valley Music Promotions, but that wouldn't be a fair conclusion to leap to, as the supporting line up to Chris Helme were all of a quality that they could have featured at the top of many a bill in their own right.
A more accurate take on the evening would be to consider that if Sean was kicking it off then you could be assured that quality wise there wouldn't be a stumble in the offing.
From a very large pool of singer-songwriters that seem to proliferate in the Scotland's west coast bars and smaller venues Sean stands out as the performers performer.
Someone who firmly has a grasp of the rung above,
I couldn't help but think that the x-factor would love him as Sean has all the star quality that show loves to exploit, but equally I thought we should be thankful that this isn't a route that he is contemplating, as the short term benefits of the exposure it would bring would also rob us of the original talent that Sean is.

Lost Element initially didn't grab me as I found it difficult to latch onto what they were doing, but midway through their set everything clicked into place and their angle on traditional rhythm and blues - albeit through the early 90's interpretation that bands like Ocean Colour Scene pushed - really hit the spot.
The last three songs were very powerfully driven, and the mix of acoustic blues guitar augmented with a vocal delivery that would have given Kelly Jones and Simon Fowler a bowel shaking moment of concern that someone was just about to muscle in on their patch was pretty sublime.
I'm reliably informed that they are even better when delivering a full on electric show so that's going to be something I can look forward to.

The next band to play provided that moment of the night when all the expectations that may or may not have been held were left in the dirt.
I've seen Mark Copeland perform solo prior to this, but no matter how impressed I was with him then it didn't prepare me for the full band experience.
All through the set I kept thinking about how it reminded me of The Waterboys around the period of their first two albums, and how each time I seen them I thought that 'these guys have to be massive'.
There's that grandiose keyboard swirl, the celtic folk signature and a pounding beat that would elicit a response from the most cloth eared among us.
That's all plenty to be going on with for anyone, but add on that certain indescribable something that screams that everyone has to hear them and you have something special on your hands.
That they have only been playing for a short while together makes it all the more impressive.
If the night finished as the last note rang out from The Wounded Pirates then no one should have felt short changed.
If this is the start then who can really say what will come next, but it's an exciting prospect to contemplate.

When Soho Dandy took to the stage I had my first dilemma of the night.
What can you say about a band who are very obviously talented, can write solid songs and can carry a performance, but don't do it for you?
It's one of those times when no matter how much you draw attention to the positives people get hung up on the not getting it part.
While most will accept that the appreciation of an artist, or a band, is subjective, it's also true that quite often they find it hard to take on board that others may not like who they do.
Then they relegate every other positive statement to the point that it is ignored completely.
So just to clarify it all as I've said earlier, everyone on the bill was deserving of head lining a gig in their own right.
Soho Dandy included.
It's just that while I can freely see the attraction to what they do it doesn't engage with me, and that's not really the fault of anyone, the band or me.
It's just different horses for different courses.
It's all very clever indie pop and it's also executed with a great deal of style. But it just wasn't my thing.

Rose Parade however are my thing, and with the band swelling to a four piece with the addition of new guy Oscar on bass it was going to be interesting to hear how that worked in within the over all live sound.
The jury wont be out for long though, as apart from visually bulking the band out the complementary bass lines definitely adds rather than subtracts to the over all vibe.
Once the d├ębut album (that's at the mastering stage just now) is released the band are now in the position to take their sound out on the road.
It's funny how until the bass was added I didn't think that it was required, but now it's here I doubt they could go back.

Now I've got a problem with Chris Helme.
It's not a major issue.
In fact it's not really something that he should concern himself with.
My problem is that while I love his time with The Seahorses, and even accept that if it wasn't for that part of his career I may have never heard of him, I still prefer to hear his own material rather than him pandering to an audience looking for a nostalgia hit.
Of course he has to give an audience what they want to a degree, and yes most of the people who come out to see him want to hear the songs from that album, but I'd rather have a run through of his latest 'The Rookery' with him then having a break before returning to regale us with some highlights from all the releases post The Seahorses.
It's time that others got up to speed with his career and stopped hanging onto past glories and accepted the reality of the here and now.
That reality being that Chris has one of the finest blues voices that the UK has.
That eh can effortlessly slide from a growl to a folk whisper or a falsetto that is pitch perfect as required is just the icing on the cake.
Compliment his technical abilities as singer with some great song writing and I really don't see why others still want to hang onto their past rather than get on board with Chris now.
When Uncut claim that he is 'echoing the fragility of Gram Parsons, while flirting with the rustic side of Neil Young' on The Rookery, then why can't that be enough.
This hanging onto the past by the audience was to shadow the gig in Irvine.
As Chris aired his solo material the sound of chat rose and the attention waned with it only to return when The Seahorses songs were dragged out.
Yet throughout Chris was professionally solid.
In fact claiming he was professionally solid is like damning him with faint praise as Chris is more than that.
I can understand that to a certain degree this audience is his bread and butter, but maybe it is time to explore how he can garner one that appreciate his whole career as a musician rather than key into a small part of it.
I fervently hope that with The Rookery that he can be able to look back on it as the watershed moment when the past was finally laid to rest and the future beckoned all fresh pink skinned and new.
So while I do appreciate that Chris does play places like Kilmarnock and Irvine, and I equally appreciate that individuals like Johnny Graham have faith in booking Chris, there's a part of me that would like to see him playing bigger venues with a band backing him and receiving the kudos that he so richly deserves.

...and finally it would be unfair not to revisit the efforts of Johnny Graham in putting this gig on.
From the bands picked, to the quality of the sound from Lee Brady, to the between band music that kept the party going it was the sort of gig that people who have been promoting take years to arrive at the standard of.
In fact some people never get it right.
So as we would say in our corner of the world 'mair power to yer elba'.
Hopefully this is the first of many and I hope that Irvine appreciates the effort put in, and will look to provide the support that Johnny needs to lay the foundations for a local music scene.

Sean Kennedy
Mark Copeland
The Lost Element
Soho Dandy
Rose Parade
Chris Helme

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