Bill Ryder-Jones


Manchester Cathedral plays host to the debut performance of Bill Ryder-Jones’s excellent debut album If…, recorded in 2011 as a hypothetical film score to the novel ‘If on a Winters Night a Traveler’, by Italo Calvino. The book itself is an experimental work, featuring ten chapters each of two parts – the first is a continuous narrative about reading a book, then the second part is the first chapter of a new story. As a man who has started reading around treble the number of books I’ve ever finished, a collection of opening chapters which don’t lead anywhere is something I’m already pretty familiar with.

Tonight’s show is put together by the Manchester Literature Festival and joining the former Coral guitarist on stage is the outstanding Manchester Camerata orchestra. A curious collection of people shuffle into the cathedral, easily identified as fans of either the orchestra or Ryder-Jones himself.

The show begins with a recording of actor John Simm reading the opening lines of the book. A haunting piano leads opening piece ‘If…’ , the dizzying high notes and lush strings the perfect soundtrack to the album’s theme of incomplete stories.

The Camerata sound glorious throughout but the unique juxtaposition of Bill playing and singing alongside them really make this evening a success. It’s easy to see the seeds of Ryder-Jones’ second album ‘A Bad Wind Blows in My Heart’ in La Grande Desordre – Bill’s voice gentle and vulnerable, guitar playing straight out of a Nick Drake songbook, all comforted by the orchestra’s soft strings. ‘Give Me A Name’ has a peculiar bleak beauty to it, while Leaning (Star of Sweden) is sparse and evocative.

Manchester Cathedral is a magnificent fit for tonight, a truly gorgeous building inside and out. The elegant soundscapes create a sense of suspense and drama brought to life amid the stained glass windows. It might be easy to forget where you are were it not for the artificial rain falling in ‘By The Church of Appolonia’ feeling so spectacularly Mancunian.

Everything tonight is executed perfectly but it is ‘Enlace’ which steals the show. From a humble two-note piano riff the chamber join in and raise the pulse, creating a sinister adventure reminiscent of Nordic noir. Strings soar triumphantly before the drama subsides to make way for Ryder-Jones to showcase his fretwork skills, a rocking solo reminding everyone how the opportunity for tonight came about in the first place.

At the show’s close rapturous applause rings out for a solid couple of minutes and those on stage deserve every second of it. Marvellous.

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Joseph Curran

Features Editor and gig reviewer