Shady Bard, Harper Simon, Ben Calvert
8th May 2010
Another cold, damp night sees Jeff Stuka make an incognito visit to Birmingham’s premier canalside basement music hutch. And damn them stupid buses, I say. If I hadn’t been required to alight at Five Ways and march down Broad street, I may just have caught the whole of Ben Calvert’s set of lush acoustic melancholia.
I feel a kindred spirit to this plaintive voice detailing dry observations on modern life, and not just for the similar taste in hats. A troubadour whose songs are rich and full of depth, never falling into formulaic structures, Calvert is a truly talented artist who inspires me with thoughts of what could be.
Another talented artist, hailing from the other side of the Atlantic pond, is virtuoso blues folk guitarist, Harper Simon (yes, Paul’s Son) who arrives on stage with a white jacket and some crazy hair.
Opening with a rather beautiful cover of The Buzzcock’s ‘Ever Fallen in Love with Someone You Shouldn’t’ve)?”, like Ben Calvert before him, he mines the plaintive troubadour vein, veering somewhere between Chris Isaak and mid-sixties Bob Dylan. He shows the hallmarks of pro-status by turning a failure to remember the words of a Who song he’s covering into an opportunity for playfully reaching out to his audience, which only adds to the engaging atmosphere. Quite lovely.
I was hijacked in the interlude by 10 Guitars, who insisted I listen to some of his home recordings and can now categorically say that everyone who goes to gigs should be hijacked at least once and forced to listen to the sound of the Pet Shop Boys fucking a glow-in-the-dark Rave Monkey. Excellent stuff Mr. 10 Guitars. I’ll be checking out more from you soon.
And now for Shady Bard, more of a light orchestra than a band, whose songs develop moody atmospherics that are more akin with a film score than a pop song. Promoting new single, ‘Trials (part III)’, the audience are treated to a succession of songs that exhibit a mastery of the same trick, developing a sedate opening into broody concern before peaking with emotional denouement.
A similarity to Arcade Fire could be loosely argued if you need something for evaluation purposes but personally, I think that Shady Bard are too unique to try to draw comparison and that is surely a good thing.