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LIVE: Bill Ryder-Jones – CONTENT, Liverpool, 21/03/2024

My first sighting of Bill Ryder-Jones was at the Glastonbury Festival in 2002. He was then the lead guitarist with The Coral, the Merseyside band he had co-founded six years earlier. On that balmy Saturday afternoon in late June it was still a good month before their debut album would be released, but such was their growing reputation they had already secured a coveted spot on The Other Stage at the world’s largest greenfield music and performing arts festival. Bill Ryder-Jones was then only 18 years of age.

And such was The Coral’s boundless talent, energy and creative confidence, critical and commercial success soon followed. But in 2008, and after five Top 10 albums, Bill Ryder-Jones left The Coral. The reasons for Ryder-Jones’ departure have been cited as being a result of his depression, agoraphobia, and experiencing panic attacks before going onstage. His own struggles with mental health and wider advocacy on the subject have both been significant features in his life and music since that time.

The Wirral Peninsula in general and his hometown of West Kirby in particular have also been constant characteristics of the music that Bill Ryder-Jones creates. And when speaking about his latest album, Iechyd Da (Good Health in Welsh) in a recent interview in The Quietus, Ryder-Jones further illustrated that point when he said, “I felt like I was making music that sounds the way I picture this place (The Wirral), which is raw, seasidey and slow.”

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It therefore feels only right that tonight Bill Ryder-Jones is playing just across the River Mersey from the Wirral in CONTENT, Liverpool’s newest independent music venue. He is here on what is the final date of the UK leg of a tour supporting the release of Iechyd Da. The day after tomorrow Bill Ryder-Jones will then head off to mainland Europe before ending this tour with a couple of shows on the island of Ireland.

And given that it is the main focus of this tour it is also only right that Bill Ryder-Jones bookends this towering performance with songs from Iechyd Da. Released in January it is his fifth studio album and another record in what has become a wonderful sequence of singularly diverse records that manage to walk a continually delicate line between often crushing despair and fleeting moments of joy.   

Leading his seven-piece band from the front, just as you would imagine, Bill Ryder-Jones opens with three songs from Iechyd Da straight off the bat – ‘I Hold Something In My Hand’‘Christinha’, ‘If Tomorrow Starts Without Me’ – before ending some ninety minutes later, and perhaps rather fittingly, with an incredibly powerful farewell courtesy of ‘This Can’t Go On.’ 

In between these two points he treats a packed CONTENT to another dozen songs. Liam Power’s keening slide guitar adds further grit and determination to the already grainy texture of ‘A Bad Wind Blows In My Heart, Part 2.’ ‘Hanging Song’ puts in an early bid for best tune of the night though it is quickly rivalled for that particular top spot by the ensuing ‘Anthony & Owen.’ ‘Wild Swans’ is its customary majestic self and ‘Wild Roses’ positively soars.

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When speaking to this very publication only the other week, Bill Ryder-Jones had said how he wanted Iechyd Da “to be a warm, safe space.” When the record is relocated to a live setting, CONTENT – constructed from repurposed materials and reclaimed shipping containers – fulfils the exact same function. This is no more apparent than on ‘I Know That It’s Like This (Baby).’ With a gentle melodic nod to Lou Reed’s ‘Walk On The Wild Side’ both the song and the immediate environment embrace intimacy and warmth.

For all that Bill Ryder-Jones’ recorded music is underpinned by a deep melancholy, this live experience is something altogether more positive, more emotionally robust, even downright playful at times. Before his solo acoustic reading of ‘Seabirds’, Ryder-Jones gives us a quick blast of the Fleetwood Mac classic ‘Oh Well.’ Then on the penultimate song of the evening, ‘Two To Birkenhead’ – probably his most well-known tune though one, in the same recent interview with GIITTV, he is quoted as saying “it’s just I’m 40 and I don’t want to fucking play it anymore” – is reinvented here as a beautifully insane and gleefully extended proto-glam rock stomp. It all makes for a hugely entertaining and gloriously uplifting evening’s entertainment.

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CONTENT, Liverpool

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.