March 15, 2017
St. Pancras Old Church, London
“That was another new number about hanging around in graveyards”
As the clock struck 9, music struck up unexpectedly. In a venue carpeted with gravestones, the effect was ghostly. For a moment, it seemed like Roddy Woomble might have chosen to perform from the rafters while we peered through the darkness at gothic memorials and a golden altarpiece.
Even when Woomble appeared, it was clear he doesn’t just sing about hiding places. At night St. Pancras Old Church isn’t blessed with light at the best of times, yet Woomble paced the stage seeking the shadows and dark spaces. It was fascinating to watch an a frontman who doesn’t crave the limelight; a performance motivated by talent rather than ego. A calling, if you will.
The talent behind songs like Waverley Steps and American English would be clear even without a hushed space, heightened acoustics and minimal distractions. Of course, the crowd was primed for the classics going back to Woomble’s time in Idlewild and his first solo album, My Secret Is My Silence.
The evening’s set demonstrated how Woomble’s style has both adapted and persisted over the decades. Though he’s now playing songs with folk tones and traditions in sedate seated venues, he still revealed sparks of restless energy reminiscent of Idlewild’s earliest explosive EP, Captain. New single Like Caruso was dark, discordant and insistent.
Sure, some of the energy these days comes from Hannah Fisher’s fiddle rather than an extra electric. But when you’re backed by a lass that can switch from traditional melodies to rowdy solos to haunting whale sound with ease, it’s reinvention rather than repudiation. Fisher’s instrumentation especially stood out on I Came In From The Mountain.
Woomble was in a pensive mood, his between song banter fitting the unusual setting. After momentary distraction, it became clear he’d been reading an inscription on the altar/stage floor: “this one’s about a man called Francis. I guess it’s his grave.”
Don’t think that means he was as dour as some of his songs (and all of bandmate/support artist Andrew Wasylyk’s songs!) were. At one point he joked about how well the audience had coped with a venue with just one indoor toilet – “everyone’s managed to hold it in!”
He wasn’t flippant, though. He seemed sincere when he concluded, with trademark understatement, “it’s [been] a very nice concert actually.” He suggested his show at Islington Assembly Hall on October 20 “will be a good concert too.” Aye, reckon it will.
Woomble’s fourth solo album is due out in September. Visit roddywoomble.com for details and tour dates.
“This song is about an adulteress being burned alive and I get to sing it in a church!”
It’s always a bonus when an artist volunteers the very word that describes them best. In Wasylyk’s case it was ‘dour.’
He embraced his style with a smile, recounting having been ask to work on a song: “make it dark and very dour – obviously that wasn’t really a problem for me!” Later, he joked “everyone’s OK? No-one wants to kill themselves yet?”
Not that the performance was depressing per se. Unless, perhaps, you work for Dundee’s tourist board [“doors are closed and we’re not encouraged to enter places of beauty”], or you’re the aforementioned adulteress. Songs like Into The Darkness and Last of the Loved were sweet, albeit doleful.
Also known as The Hazey Janes’ Andrew Mitchell, Wasylyk switched between guitar and piano, casting shadows in sound and on the wall. As he concentrated on tones, delay and reverb, the crowd were ensnared by something as starkly captivating as the surrounding memorials.
Andrew Wasylyk’s album Soroky is out now. Visit wasylyk.co.uk for details, plus a captivating video of 50s archive footage accompanying the song Drift.
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