Tucked away in the darkest recesses of the Brudenell Social Club, through the public bar and beyond the row upon row of green baize snooker tables lies the Far Back Room. This thirty foot square of the most intimate of spaces, far from the main concert room’s madding crowd and the rattling din of Esben & The Witch, tonight plays the unlikely host to an altogether different musical experience. Originally billed as being Devon Sproule and Mike O’Neill, the male half of that pairing is nowhere to be seen. A hastily scrawled note pinned up on the Brudenell front door tells us that in his stead will be Bernice.
What follows are two sets of music, albeit from the self-same five people yet cast in rather different configurations. Commenting later upon such distinctions, Devon Sproule’s fellow Canadian and Bernice’s principal architect Robin Dann (pictured) suggests it is all just music. Her description says far more about her modesty though than ever it does the wonderful, divergent sounds these five very talented musicians are capable of producing. The first half of the show sees Sproule, quite literally given the Far Back Room’s low, subdued lighting, in Bernice’s shadow whilst for the second she tentatively enters the figurative spotlight. The gorgeous soft-shoe shuffle of the most inspired jazz-infused music you are likely to hear outside of any deluxe elevator gives way to the gentle warmth of Sproule’s memorable nu-folk country, the bridge between which is a spellbinding re-enactment of Judee Sill’s ‘The Kiss’ every bit as fragile and as haunting as the all too short life of the song’s doomed composer.
Whether it is the loss of O’Neill, her collaborator on their recent album, the rather excellent Colours, or it is the vaguely claustrophobic confines of the location, Devon Sproule’s first three songs (‘The Shallow End’, ‘You Can’t Help It’ and the record’s title track) all suffer from an uncertainty and awkwardness. But by the time that a new song ‘Hi De Hi Do’ (?) is unveiled the music has started to firmly coalesce, completely at one with Anthony Gerace’s moving images of the natural world that are projected onto the wall behind. The emotional symbolism of these scenes of untouched beauty is a quite perfect accompaniment to the simple pleasure of the music.
By now firmly into her stride and with any early gaucheness having long since evaporated, Sproule treats us to some more “old looking new stuff as yet more green stuff” with a delightful stroll through ‘Walking In The Folly’ before the most exquisite reading of Linda Perhacs’ ‘Hey, Who Really Cares’ you are ever likely to hear this side of the original. ‘Weeping Willow’, dusted down from the album Keep Your Silver Shined and with its delicate Ibanez guitar and drum accompaniment, is genuinely moving and the concluding ‘Nobody Tells Me A Thing’ is a stirring climax to a set that once it had emerged from the shadows of its own self-doubt was a firm realisation of all the life-affirming qualities of experiencing live music at its very best. If any such proof were needed, an encore of The Roches’ ‘Runs In The Family ‘ illustrated just how perfectly Sproule’s and Dann’s voices dovetail together and gave even greater lie to Dann’s later assertion that it was all just music.