A new music venue (ground floor café in The Savoy Centre, decked out with chairs, benches and a bottle/can bar, a bit unlikely on first sight but it really worked), a determined promoter (the redoubtable Tony Gaughan) and a singular artist revisiting these shores once again.
Hamell’s tour also reached Edinburgh’s Leith Depot although the New York anti-folker admitted he doesn’t get to Scotland as much as he would like. BM’s notes see him last spotted at an in-store in Lovemusic in 2011 and before that, nothing since gigs in 2002 Kings Tuts and 2003 at The Arches, which can’t mean a gap of 8 years either side of 2011? – but maybe it does.
Anyway, before the man himself we got English folk singer Ruth Theodore. She entertained the now quite large crowd (well, for the venue anyway, say 100+ people, and surprisingly loud with talking) with guitar, harmonica and her very sweet voice, a wee bit Michelle Shocked by way of Tracy Chapman. Song subjects included “loving someone who is sick” (‘Can’t Choose Who You Love’), the planet Pluto (“a bit of a crazy orbit, jealous of being demoted in favour of that former moon…”) and reminiscences of squatting in Hackney years ago. The last song about a village she stayed, and was persuaded to write about and play at the village fete was a bucolic but biting satire on private land ownership, after which she promptly moved (or had to move) out of that village. She got a lot of applause from an audience initially a bit sceptical and unfamiliar with her material.
Ed Hamell has being doing his stick several decades now (since 1989 in fact) and has travelled the world, having some sporadic successes but probably more to the point remaining his own man. He greets the crowd like old friends, tells numerous and lengthy jokes and anecdotes between songs, slags off promoter Tony Gaughan at every opportunity and generally has a grand old time, as do we the audience.
There are impromptu songs about people not wanting to sit in the front row of this shows and about the “balloon room” next door, actually a kids’ play area, which “makes him nervous” and want to burst them all.
His guitar playing (a battered acoustic plugged into an amp, very lo-fi) whips up a storm of fuzz noise and his voice is gravelly as ever.
His set spanned several decades of music, and ‘The Happiest Man in the World’ and ‘Whores’ were righteous blues… This guy is the real deal, tropes of Tom Waits but here in this shopping centre, this performance transports us from the everyday into Bob Dylan, other troubadours…
This guy is a total one-off, and Glasgow is honoured to welcome him once again, and looks forward to welcoming him again in future.