John Grant

John Grant


In a year where the great and the good are checking out at an alarming rate, it is important that we appreciate those still walking amongst us.  John Grant is such an individual. Thankfully that appears to be the case, if the praise for his latest album and string of dates is to be seen.

It is less than a year since he last played Manchester and the demand for tickets was no less intense because of this. Tonight that was one that was best spent indoors, certainly if it was behind those of the fabulous Albert Hall.

Support for Grant comes from Icelandic singer Soley. She is an engaging presence when she plays her delicately crafted piano-led songs and has the audience hanging on to here every word. She is just as enchanting during her between song patter. ‘Thank you, you are nice,’ she says from behind her fringe and big glasses, before she starts a conversation about sport. A subject she professes to have no interest in. During her songs you could hear the soft Icelandic accent coming through. Making it difficult for this reviewer not to resort to lazy comparisons with Bjork.

Grant’s band emerges to the intro track, which opens the latest album Grey Tickles, Black Pressure. As they assemble Grant walks out to a rapturous applause during ‘Geraldine’. He waves to all four corners of the room as he walks to the microphone. It is a song that closes the album, but as an opener it is perfect. Its coda is extended tonight to include a hypnotic guitar solo from Petur Hallfrimsson.

Grant has put together a talented band with which to realise the sound of his latest material. The Icelandic duo of Petur Hallfrimsson on guitar and Jakob Smari Magnusson on bass, certainly have the chops to contend with the funkier elements of the set.  Chris Pemberton on keyboards is virtuoso with every form of the instrument. He even supplied perfect backing vocals across the night; in particular on ‘It Doesn’t Matter to Him’.

John Grant

John Grant

Then there’s Budgie.  I am pleased to see him behind the kit, so too Grant if his introductions of the band are to be believed.  He’s all crashing high-hats and flailing arms. Sadly, I have taken the wrong position to see him in full effect, but occasionally I can see a hand emerging from above the guitar amp attacking the kit with vigour.

They perform a truly mesmerising version of ‘Pale Green Ghosts’. Budgie’s talents are in full effect on this one, as he stands up to smash his cymbals with force and an element of theatricality. I don’t know if there’s a preservation of hi-hats society, but if there were, they would be out in force tonight protesting at their mistreatment.

‘Snug Slacks’ 
set the tone for the rest of the set as Grant throws shapes that the audience were obliged to join in. ‘Guess How I Know’ 
is another one from the album that seems to take on a different form live.

There are plenty of expressions of love from the audience throughout the night, which Grant modestly smiled away.  When someone shouted ‘When are you coming to Wales, John?’ ‘Soon, I fucking hope,’ he answered before professing his love for Cate LeBon. The Super Furry Animals got an honourable mention too.

He didn’t respond to the calls as to when he was going to go to Fleetwood.

 is simply stunning. It is a hairs-on-the-back-of-your-neck moment, with the audience engrossed, hoping that beautiful piano run will never end. Sadly it does.

Some of the old favourites have an outing too, ‘GMF’ and in particular ‘Queen of Denmark’ are well received; the latter song is dedicated to the audience by Grant. ‘Disappointing’ one of the best songs of last year, loses none of its appeal live, even stripped of the Tracey Thorn vocals on the album. It is still a thing of wonder. It is a perfect set closer.

The encore turns the temperature to funk again with ‘Voodoo Doll’.  A member of the front row offers Grant a sinister looking doll, which he tries to prop up on the keyboard for the rest of the set.

‘No More Tangles’ is the last time that we see the band. It is the perfect final showcase of all the talents. The night draws to a close with Grant alone behind the piano to play a beautifully evocative version of ‘Drug’, the one song from his former band The Czars. Chris Pemberton joins Grant for the closing number ‘Caramel’, which is a beautiful way to end a fantastic night.

John Grant is someone who pours his heart and soul into his songs, at times as a fan, you just feel like you want to give him a hug. It was good to be part of a collective at the Albert Hall who took him into their arms.

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