To borrow heavily from no less than Bob Dylan, this was a very good time to be stuck inside of Oporto with the post-Bluedot blues again. The preceding weekend’s Bluedot Festival had, by every available account, been a roaring success. It had high adventure, musical transcendence and a Zen-like vibe. And with their excellent curation of the festival’s Roots Stage, the Leeds based promoter High & Lonesome had contributed greatly to this wonderful sense of emotional wellbeing.
But now it is back to the day (and night) job for the two mainstays of High & Lonesome, Nick Simcock and Harry Ridgeway, who are on duty at The Gaslight Club. Run as a free event every Monday evening in the Oporto Bar on Call Lane in Leeds, it is based upon the concept of the folk clubs that had appeared in New York’s bohemian Greenwich Village in the early ‘60s. It has over the years become a regular pilgrimage for many to experience artists with no small talent in the most warm and intimate of surroundings.
There is absolutely no rest for Harry Ridgeway. Just back from Bluedot where he had appeared in the guise of his solo project Altar Hanglands, he not only performs again as his alter-ego here tonight but has also been invested with the responsibility of being this evening’s host. Now the songs of Altar Hanglands may well present Ridgeway as some sort of morose bugger. There is no getting away from his lyrical fondness for self-reflection, melancholia and despair. And at his own admission he likes to bare his soul. Yet he does so with an undeniable twinkle in his eye and his firm grasp on melody and the warm resonance of his rich voice places some considerable distance between him and your common-or-garden bedroom miserabilist. Hell, for all we know he could be just as happy as John Denver.
Another chap who has just come back from Bluedot and also knows his way around a tune is Simon Widdowson. Now living in splendid isolation in a remote area of France, he has returned to his home city for what is just a brief stay. Warming to Altar Hanglands earlier theme of sadness, Widdowson reassures us that “there is nothing wrong with feeling a little blue”, adding that the songs he plays here will be a perfect antidote to all the positivity he feels in his adopted home country.
A professional musician for quarter of a century now, Simon Widdowson will be a dozen albums into a recording career later this year when he releases Looking for the Sun. He showcases much of that material here tonight, ranging from the emotional grandeur of ‘Forgetting You’re Gone’ to the sweetly haunting desolation of ‘It’s What You Do’ and from the spirited outsider country blues of ‘Outlaw’ to the romantic fascination of the album’s title track. Each song has travel at its heart and conveys the same restless spirit as Harry Dean Stanton’s character did in the film Paris, Texas, that of a man who is still searching. It all makes for compelling listening.
And then to confirm that The Gaslight Club is not just about singer-songwriters and the noble art of introspection Ophelia take to the Oporto stage. ‘If You Could Read My Mind’ and ‘A Little Too Late’, both taken from the Sheffield duo’s self-titled debut EP, confirm Samuel Taylor and Rebecca Van Cleave’s gift for pop possibilities. But as the set develops, their natural instincts and transatlantic identity move them beyond joyful harmonies and the simple craft of accessibility into something that is far more dramatic. Like Simon Widdowson before them they are attracted to the romance of the road and similarly locate their destinations in some great beyond. And then as if to reunite themselves with the past they conclude with a noble cover of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Chelsea Hotel #2’. It makes for a perfect end to a perfect evening and in referencing yet another cultural heavyweight in Keith Richards, coming down again has probably never felt quite this good.
Main photograph: Simon Godley
Other photos from this show can be found HERE