John Bramwell

John Bramwell


The impressive Royal Northern College Of Music plays host tonight, to John Bramwell who has taken time out from recording a new album to road test his new songs and play a number of songs from his back catalogue. It’s a bigger venue than on his recent string of solo dates but it’s one that he’s more than at home in.

The billing suggests that the night was a solo gig, but the stage was set with an array of instruments, which are utilised throughout the night. First up, is Dave Fidler, someone that doesn’t need an introduction to Bramwell’s audience.

Dave opens with ‘I’m Not Here’, the title track of his new album. “Has anyone seen me before?’ he asks the audience. The loud cheers suggest they have. “Okay, I better play something new then.”

Stevie’s Blues sounds like there are at least three guitarists on stage and highlights the dexterous nature of his guitar playing – impressive and not at all showy. ‘Can’t Stand It’ and ‘Home To You’, he dedicates to his Dad who died of cancer. The Dylanesque ‘Easy Come, Easy Go’ is dedicated to his young son. The quality of his short set suggests that a trip to the merchandise stall in the break is justified. Thankfully, it won’t be the last we’ll see of him for the night.

Bramwell takes to the stage rocking the type of sunglasses that the Big O would’ve been proud of. These were no mere rock star affectation despite a cry from the stalls that ‘someone’s doing well,’ instead they were to help John read the lyrics to one of his newer numbers. He dispenses with the shades for the second number and the rest of the set

“We’re twenty five minutes in and we’ve only done two songs. That’s value for money for you?” he questions the audience, who all seem satisfied with how the night is shaping up. In that time, we hear new songs, both channelling the spirit and tone of Nick Drake. They are from his new album Leave Alone The Empty Spaces due to be released in 2017.

We also witness Bramwell as the consummate frontman that has the audience hanging off his every word. There are times to tonight that I’m lost for words as how to describe the gig. Thankfully, John was on hand to offer tips on what to write.

“Are there any reviewers in? Bramwell has reached new heights of professionalism…’ he offers as a helpful line to add to the review as he successfully manhandles some misfiring equipment.

There’s no argument from me, or the people around me. The older I Am Kloot numbers lose nothing with the paired down arrangements. ‘Fingerprints’ is wonderfully lean and sparse and has you holding your breath. ‘I Still Do’ is one of a number of hairs-on-the-back-of-the-neck-movements from the night, with its tender vocal and additional piano arrangement. Whether he plays the songs with just an acoustic, or with the cello and piano backing they all offer new insights about the songs. Even faced the unfamiliarity the newer numbers the partisan audience is receptive to all that he wants to do. It is clear that the newbies are destined to become favourites in the Bramwell cannon.

With the addition of an accordion, ‘The Brink’ now sounds like a Parisian waltz that wouldn’t sound out of place drifting out of a bar on the Left Bank.

Bramwell unveils more new songs and is accompanied by more additions on stage comprising Dave Fidler, his brother Andy and Adrian on pedal steel. There’s a different vibe to the tunes. Bramwell’s ear for a good melody is still present, but the multiple harmonies recall something more alt-country in their style. There is certainly a hint and nod to Crosby, Stills and Nash, which is no bad thing. How they have done that is impressive given that the songs have been recorded in John’s garage.

The new single, ‘Times Arrow’ is the first release to be released off the new record. It’s available free after the gig, in return for a donation to Macmillan. A gesture that appears to have been more problematic than the singer envisaged. “I should’ve filled out a form, apparently. I’ll just send them a cheque and say nothing. It’ll be easier.”

‘Northern Sky’ is simply beautiful tonight. Bramwell’s revelation that the song is ‘heavily inspired’ by Suspicious Minds does not diminish its charm. ‘It’s not as though it’s an on obscure song is it?’ He asks the audience, in defence of getting away with that for so long. He ends with Proof that is the perfect closing number. Its gorgeous melody is a faultless embodiment of the songwriter’s craft. It takes on a more melancholic tone, given it’s the last number of the night.

“This is the most enjoyable hometown gig I’ve had in a long time. I’m usually quite tense for these things.” Again, borrowing the words of the engaging singer it’s certainly one the most enjoyable gigs that I have seen in a long time. Here’s hoping that the reviewers, audience and singer can enjoy another night like this one sometime soon.

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