Kicking off a season of open air concerts in June is a brave move as the early summer weather can be an unruly beast, but the Midlands Arts Centre are seasoned in this game by now so for the opening night it should have been no surprise that the forecast rain never appeared. As we took our seats in the mini amphitheatre (Nina Nastasia commented that she expected the lions to be released any moment) we did so under a clear sky, warm and, most importantly, dry.On such an evening, who could help but relax and be happy? Well, if you’re really looking for someone who’d fit the bill then you could start with Richard Swift. Having just about given up on the music business he found that his bitter sign-off to the industry – an album titled Dressed Up For The Letdown – finally won him some of the attention he had been craving. Picked up by Rough Trade in the UK he’s garnering respect in a slow-burn, word of mouth kinda way.
He’s clearly not forgiven and forgotten being put through the music industry mill, but being grumpy at a bunch of people lapping up your songs and applauding each one seems a little ungracious. Richard seemed to think it was the children heard laughing in another part of the MAC site that were the only ones enjoying his set but then his misanthropic spike was a nice counter to the almost overbearing niceness of the rest of the evening.
Maybe the lines “I made my way into the spotlight/ Just to realise it’s not what I want” from Songs Of National Freedom are to be taken at face value. This was a standout tune in a good quality set, with Richard swapping between piano and guitar as the songs reguired, occasionally accompanied by a lank-haired chum on guitar. Recent single Kisses For The Misses, was good too and the set of intelligently-observed guitar pop (if you liked Richard Hawley’s solo effort you’ll like this) was polished off by a surprising drum machine-driven electronic wigout. Hopefully his record industry reservations can be kept in check for a long enough for a few more people to discover him.
I was quite looking forward to seeing Nina Nastasia but I’d not done my usual, diligent pre-gig research and so knew no more than that she hails from New York and is a singer/songwriter. To be honest I’m now not much the wiser. Her set slipped by pleasantly enough but failed to register with me at all. I kept catching my mind wandering and chiding myself for lapses in my critical professionality. The only thing that stayed in my memory is an overscripted-sounding bit of banter about how she’d forgotten to think of anything to chat with the audience about. Next…
Actually next up was a much more interesting proposition. Curator of the Homefires Festival, of which this tour was a spin off, Adem is one of those affable sorts who makes it his business to be constantly busy and involved in something interesting. Having watched the rest of the acts from the side of the audience he took his turn on stage alone to softly croon Love And Other Planets.
Adem was then joined onstage by the Elysian Quartet (an innovative, young string quartet who deal solely in contemporary and experimental music) who had provided arrangements for some of Adem’s songs.
Let It Burn smouldered ominously with the strings variously picking out the melody, drawing discordant screeches and again adding percussion, this time with one quartet member using a comb between the strings as a rattle.
The quartet downed bows for Adem to accompany himself on a small music box, playing a tune as per the holes punched out of the decorated card fed through it – a gift from the lady who provides Adem’s album artwork. It’s not an outstanding piece of music but he managed to pull it off and it’s quirkiness like this that stops his work from drifting into vapidity.
With the outdoorsiness requiring a slightly earlier finish than most gigs, my friend and I headed off to catch the dying embers of a barbecue at a friend’s house in good spirits. What more could a lad ask for on an early summer evening?