“I hope the ghost of my still warm foetus haunts Charlotte’s toilet”. Martin Rossiter, formerly the singer with Gene, regales a hometown Welsh audience about how his birthplace of St David’s Hospital is now Charlotte Church’s new bathroom. “I don’t really”, he laughs.
As someone else put it, Martin Rossiter has clearly grown into his artistry; his voice rich in tone yet underscored with vulnerability, wit and knowing. It is the kind of voice that has lived, suffered and now stands at times defiantly to tell the tale. His debut solo album of last year “The Defenestration of St Martin” was a glorious at times brutal set of stripped back autobiographical torch-songs, left naked and stark, production stripped back to just piano and vocal allowing his starkly confessional voice and words speak of love, humanity and a haunted past”.
Martin Rossiter’s between song words show he hasn’t forgotten the place of his birth; there are allusions to his support of Cardiff City – “let’s not even talk about the red shirts!” – and an embarrassed apology for having to cancel his last show in the capital.
Early in Rossiter’s set comes the first in a litany of heart-stopping stand-outs in the shape of the ten minute mini-epic ‘Three Points on a Compass’. It is an unveiling of childhood abandonment and pain, centring upon the utterly brutal crushing refrain of “all that I got from you was this name, this stupid name” repeated over and over; it is captivating and almost too difficult to listen to and is rapturously received. Elsewhere, there is the utterly glorious darkness of ‘There’s No One Left To Blame‘, replete with luxurious puncturing piano scales and Rossiter’s brittle self admonishments – “who’d adore this solid frame? And convince me there’s a future? I’d really like to meet ya. I really don’t believe you are real”. It’s not self pity; it is a brutal confessional and is yet another stunning heartbreaking moment.
Martin Rossiter bestrides the stage, pacing back and forth, flicking his hands out and above him in punctuation and devotion. On the wonderfully oscillating ‘Let The Waves Carry You’ his voice gracefully sweeping into falsetto and back again before joining his pianist at the piano to add texture to those waves of an at times almost classical accompaniment.
Gene were perhaps unfairly dismissed as Smiths copyists in the ’90s. When Martin Rossiter launches into an impassioned rendition of the excellent Gene single ‘Speak To Me Someone’ that sounds even better stripped back, giving his tone space to reach for its highest register. Then there are the couplets of the excellent ‘London Can Wait’ or the elegant and tender ‘Olympian’ in his encore and one can hear with clarity the sheer quality of these songs that maybe were always just out of their time, just missing the pre-Britpop scene and swamped in a sea of laddist populism.
But it is Martin Rossiter’s new songs that really show how much he has grown as a performer, artist and voice, despite their being rounded, fuller richer compositions. The longing of ‘Where There Are Pixels‘ claws for affection; the almost Broadway sway of the anthem ‘I Must Be Jesus’ finds Rossiter checking himself for being “a bit camp” as he dances to its final bars . The startling encore is given weight and brevity by a marvellous version of the plea for commitment hymn, ‘Drop Anchor‘; the piano motif clambers and his voice is rich in tone while his words are a poetic complexity. “So sing it loud girl, Sing it loud, For it’s the last song you’ll ever have”, emotes Martin on the tender midnight lullaby which is laced with compassion and love, an affecting farewell.
At a time when some music is transient and artists are often governed by trends, bandwagons, their labels and the need for congratulation, eight years out of the business appears to have only clarified Martin Rossiter’s need to create art for himself. Shorn of affectation, with just voice and piano, he produced one of the most towering solo records I’ve heard in a long time. Tonight it’s an achievement matched by his wonderful stage craft and captivating voice. The Morrissey comparisons are too obvious but this sensitive, wonderful artist has carved his own niche and has let us into his life: I for one don’t want his voice to leave us again.