“All things considered, this has gone alright, I think?” Looking out into the fully-seated, sold out Howard Assembly Room and just ahead of what he had earlier referred dryly to as the “hits” part of the show, Bill Ryder-Jones takes stock of his evening thus far. He is clearly reflecting, once more, upon the fact that everyone is sat down, something he is still unsure about. He is also thinking about Liam Power’s guitar malfunction just before new song ‘And Then There’s You’, forcing Ryder-Jones to start an impromptu version of ‘The Lemon Trees #3’. His own guitar mishap, one that sidelined the cream Fender Jazzmaster for the rest of the set but at least brought Peter Green’s old Gibson back into play, may also be on his mind.
And with these words, Bill Ryder-Jones also seems to capture much of the uncertainty and self-doubt that appear to course through his daily life and much of the subject matter that feature in his songs. But having spent another 90 minutes in his sublime musical company quite why such incertitude still remains – at least in a musical sense – is surely one of life’s great mysteries. Given this man’s prodigious artistic talent he really ought to be a huge star.
The man from West Kirby on the Wirral peninsula in Merseyside takes to the stage by himself on the stroke of 8.35pm and as he plays four songs alone proceeds to confirm why he is a contemporary master of melodic, melancholic music. Bill Ryder-Jones’ songs can be as bleak as they are beautiful as ‘Seabirds’, the gut-wrenching despondency of ‘Put It Down Before You Break It’ and ‘By Morning I’ readily confirm. He tells us apologetically that he “has a bit of a shit voice tonight”. The effects of a cold, though, merely reinforce the wracked imperious gloom of his music.
The last solo song Bill Ryder-Jones performs tonight is ‘Recover’. Taken from his forthcoming album Yawn – his fourth solo offering, due out on 2nd November – it affirms that in the three years since his full-length last record, the magnificent West Kirby County Primary, he has lost absolutely none of his innate grasp of melody and what can easily present as a constant quest for redemptive purpose in his songs.
His band join him for song number five of the night, ‘Mither’. Another from the new album, it is nothing short of brilliant. Written about Ryder-Jones’ mother, it comes drenched in the most careworn of North Western charm. And then as Liam Power’s sound problems are finally resolved, Ryder-Jones says “ah, fuck that, let’s do it”, as he promptly ditches ‘The Lemon Trees #3’ and launches straight into ‘And Then There’s You’. He later concedes that it was the one he “was worried about” playing live. He needn’t have been too concerned. It is colossal, as are the other two new songs he unveils here, ‘There Are Worse Things’ and ‘There Will Be The Only Saviour’.
As the new songs lead seamlessly into the older material – from ‘Two To Birkenhead’ through to the spectacular lysergic swirl of ‘Satellites’ – Bill Ryder-Jones’ arrangements, his voice and a band that is clearly in firm step with his musical vision coalesce with the greatest of emotional heft and what touches upon genuine out-of-this-world magnificence.
Earlier in the evening the London-via-Brighton trio of Our Girl – guitarist and vocalist Soph Nathan, Josh Tyler on bass guitar and drummer Lauren Wilson – readily translated the early promise of their recently released debut album Stranger Today into a live setting with a sparkling set full of fuzzed-out pop potential. Concluding song ‘Boring’ – also the last track on the album – is anything but, perfectly bottling the essence of their sound.
Photos: Simon Godley
More photos from this show can be found HERE