Josh Pyke CREDIT Natasha Johansson

Josh Pyke CREDIT Natasha Johansson


It’s been a couple of years since I last saw JOSH PYKE at Manchester’s Deaf Institute: and in that time you can see his growth as a performer. In my interview (HERE) with the acoustic singer-songwriter, he told me his latest album The Beginning and The End of Everything was a reference to the end of the first cycle of his career, and the start of the next. Well, you can tell. It’s Halloween at the Night and Day Café, but there are no scares here. Pyke delivers a varied yet well established catalogue of songs, with the welcome addition of impressive production to match.

Opening the night for Pyke is five-piece Pylo. And I have to be honest, they kick off the night with a rather melancholy number that – although impressively orchestrated – is a bit of a buzzkill. The lead vocalist sings, “Sorry, I can’t be any happier”.  Likewise, I think. But trust me, with the beat of the next song, I realise this band are something special. Epic, even. Lead singer Matthew Aldus has a remarkable voice – with striking clarity and strength. When he puts down his guitar, he moves around the stage with an emotive, performative confidence. Set against the driving, powerful guitars and synth/piano, it’s the kind of music that is almost lost on the Night and Day Café, with an audience sat on chairs around candlelit tables. This music is BIG. Lighter-waving stuff. It needs to be on the Glastonbury Pyramid stage. Guy Garvey style. A few more singalong songs perhaps, and this band could do it. Just remember that you read about them here first, right?

Following Pylo, on comes Josh Pyke. Given that it’s Halloween, he quips, “You might not realise, but I’m dressed up tonight. I’m really Larry Carlton. I’ve dressed as singer-songwriter Josh Pyke”. The audience laughs – part of the warm interaction that lasts throughout the night.

He opens with first album title track Memories and Dust – altered to include harmonica. It’s done to great effect. One of the perils of being an acoustic, solo artist is being able to replicate the sound of your produced material live – without the extra instruments or heavily layered harmonies the audience is used to hearing. Playing things solo, these tracks can often feel empty. But Pyke masterfully bends this issue, by altering his songs to make them unique to the live audience – adding parts so that the missing pieces are not felt, such as changing melodies on alternate verses.

Another way he does this is with a clever use of a loop pedal – which records short pieces of music and repeats them indefinitely. He starts this on second song of the night, White Lines Dancing: layering up percussive guitar tapping with an iPad piano riff, and finally adding in some impressive choral harmonies. Pyke may be on his “Lone Wolf” tour, but it sounds as if he has a whole wolf-pack behind him when the full effect is heard. The looper pedal makes a number of appearances during the evening, but Pyke is careful not to overproduce everything, and lets the softer, more acoustic songs breathe. Candle in Your Window is a beautifully slowed down affair, for example.

Throughout the night, it is clear Pyke has put together a show for old fans. Despite the inclusion of a couple of new songs, most feature on first record Memories and Dust and second, Chimney’s Afire – something that goes down well with the audience. He delivers hit after hit, from Lighthouse Song to Sew My Name, The Summer, Lines on Palms and so on. He even brings a couple out of the bag that are usually unheard in Australia: Beg Your Pardon (a favourite of mine, that I have never previously heard live) and Private Education – which Pyke admits he had to look up the words for on the internet, as it was so long since he performed it. There is also a hugely warm response to Pyke’s biggest hit, Middle of the Hill, in which he invites the audience to help with the percussive clapping, featured in the recorded song. The audience does a pretty good job – with consistent, impeccable timing. That’s what you get with a seated, Northern Quarter audience, I guess. Clapping with effort…

Finishing with the stunningly intricate Love Lies, Pyke made sure to leave the audience spellbound – singing with an almost wolf-like howl throughout. Using the looper again, he builds up a haunting choral pattern that he leaves the stage with. It’s an abrupt exit, but a fitting one. He may be far from sunny Australia, but on a dark evening, I could listen to this performance again and again.

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I'm a huge music lover, being a regular gig and festival goer, singer songwriter, tv/radio presenter and reviewer for Silent Radio.