Saturday, August 6, 2016

Golden Songs

When Ryley Walker came over from the United States two years ago to play at record store and gig promoters Music's Not Dead's third anniversary celebration in Bexhill, the halfwit in me meant I did not go. Only having heard of him fleetingly when his debut album, All Kinds of You, had come out a few months earlier, I passed up the chance to see the Chicago-based musician for a fiver at the modest Albatross Club on the seafront on the grounds that Bexhill was about to host relatively expensive appearances by British Sea Power and Johnnies, Marr and Lydon. With hindsight, it was clearly my loss.

Last year, Walker's soulful bluesy folk - music that seems to draw most comparisons with Tim Buckley and onetime Hastings resident John Martyn - began to attract more attention. Second album, Primrose Hill, garnered glowing reviews and featured in many end-of-year best album lists, with Mojo praising his "wild complexities of sweet melody and song" and comparing his guitar playing to Bert Jansch. And now, as if to compound the Pentangle dimension to his sound, Walker has been touring with that band's legendary double bassist and sometime John Martyn collaborator, Danny Thompson.

There was no Thompson at Hastings' cathedral-like St. Mary in the Castle last night but this did not detract from the quality of Walker's performance. With the Norwegian duo of Julius Lind on electric bass and Stale Solberg on drums, the trio showed that Walker has quickly moved on from last year, with the bulk of the set made up of songs from forthcoming album, Golden Sings That Have Been Sung. And the songs were golden: highlights included The Halfwit in Me ("about being a dummy in Chicago"), The Roundabout and Sullen Mind. Walker's acoustic guitar shimmered and soared and his freeform interplay with Solberg's percussive idiosyncrasies was joyful.

Naturally funny and engaging, Walker was effusive between songs and expressed his love of seaside towns, drinking and eating fish 'n' chips but said that he fears violence from seagulls more than almost anything else in the world. There is a sense that he enjoys being permanently on the road and when he (sort of) name checked Music's Not Dead ("Music Stays") he asked where the late bar was. Finishing with a stellar version of Primrose Green, there was just time for one quick encore before the drinking could begin in earnest.

Earlier, Brighton-based Holly Macve had played a short set of haunting songs accompanying herself on guitar. Recently signed to Bella Union, I saw the 21-year-old support John Grant last year and was struck by her mesmeric and ethereal voice - a real talent destined for great things.

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