Sometimes beautiful things are difficult to get to. Often though, when you take the trouble to search through the things obscuring it, getting in the way of it even, it makes it even more worthwhile.
That was the case on Tuesday night in the back of Sheffields City Hall, the Memorial Hall, when’s couple of extraordinary Manchester singer-songwriters took to the stage. For those that know Liam Frost, and for those of us that discovered him that evening, they will no doubt tell you about his lovely, folk tinged ballads, taking from people like Guy Garvey and maybe more pertinently Stephen Fretwellto conjure everyday life tales, It’s sugared with his frankly lovely voice and just that twinge of musical ambition and erudite turn of phrase to life him above the parapet – certainly worthy of the eminent company he’s been keeping on this tour.
The day seems to have conspired against Damon Gough, aka Badly Drawn Boy. Snake Pass (those of us that know that particular thoroughfare will no doubt sagely nod) was closed and had resulted in adding an extra four hours to the journey from Manchester to the Steel City, and, on the back of a brilliant show the night before, Gough wanted tonight to be at least as special given his connections with the city.
Let’s get this out there straight away. It was, and as he left the stage, the spellbound audience who had been treated to more than and hour and a half of the best of Gough’s brilliant and intuitive songwriting showed him as much.
In reality it was easy to find that beauty and to appreciate it, and the only thing that was obscuring it was Gough himself, albeit with his own search for perfection and self criticism. Largely he was on good form, trying to start chronologically with the setlist but quickly getting bored (as he predicted) and instead veering around his immense canon of songs, skilfully dismissing his self proclaimed ‘biggest fan’ (you know the sort, right?) with both humour and musical sidesteps, and feeding the crowd stories behind the songs, and himself with candid insight.
There were moments when frustration at the atmosphere – the wholly seated audience not really providing much in the way of a rowdy, good time crowd, his own performance and equipment, almost this sense of imposter syndrome (I’m not meant to be here, this is not me, he said at one point) and the worry we weren’t in it with him seemed to take hold at moments. Songs were sometimes clipped short and almost abandoned in one instance, but always rescued and always imbued with such incredible pathos and melancholy that they seemed perfect as they were presented to us.
It made for a slightly weird (I’ve thought about that choice of word for a long time) atmosphere. I’m not saying this stuff to get sympathy, he said at one point. But the crowd didn’t think that anyway. Instead, for maybe the first time it felt like we were searching for his approval, rather than the other way round, and by the end of the evening – despite apologising for it not being as good as some of the other nights on the tour, it felt like he appreciated us and we simply loved him.
And the equipment and performance and mood and crowd and atmosphere? Maybe that was all in its own innocent way, obscuring Damon Gough’s own search for his beautiful things. But us, we found them anyway, and we loved it.