Published on April 26th, 2015 | by Mike Ainscoe0
Blair Dunlop, Emma Stevens, Science of the Lamps – Deaf Institute, Manchester – 22/4/15
For someone who started off thinking that Blair Dunlop’s debut album was titled ‘Bright & Blossom’ – it’s actually ‘Blight & Blossom’, you’d have think a lesson had been learned. Obviously not. Today’s lesson was ‘take care to read the posters carefully’. Then you don’t end up with the embarrassment of telling your mates about a support act called Silence Of The Lamps, naturally resulting in all sorts of Hannibal Lecter jokes before you realise that it’s actually ‘Science’ Of The Lamps and you look a bit shamefaced.
The eight piece from Liverpool just about managed to fit the Deaf Institute stage. The core quartet was embellished by a further quartet of backing singers, whose plain black outfits were emhanced with what could only be described as tutus underlit with fairy lights. All very Vivienne Westwood and actually more than useful in contributing, possibly doubling the wattage of the muted stage lighting. With a short set of Americana cum lounge jazz tinged songs – the sort which should end in ‘cha cha cha’, they were pleasant enough without being thrilling or enthralling, but perhaps a more optimistic alternative to Dylan’s bleak and murderous narrative ‘Hollis Brown’, which broke out over the PA at the end of their set.
Whenever there’s a joint headlining status, it always makes you wonder how they decide who goes first. Maybe they’ve been taking turns, Emma Stevens and her band getting first dibs tonight, and with quite a number of fans in the audience, resplendent in tour shirts and ‘pledge’ shirts, she was well supported. Her sound is very much a combination of country pop tinged folk – or indeed any arrangement of those four words. Maybe add ‘sparkly’ to the list as well. Her songwriting knowhow sees things like ‘Make My Day’, something which in the hands of McBusted or 1D would become an enormo-hit, yet in the Deaf Institute, nothing more than a pleasant singalong. She also took the risk of coming out from behind her guitar/banjo/uke to deliver a couple of songs which were perhaps the most low key yet insightful moments of her set. Life without a safety net, but living very much up to the billing and dispensing her cheery and sunny disposition.
Blair Dunlop on the other hand, appears a little more sombre, yet can you call anyone who walks on stage with a setlist written on a paper plate anything less than unpretentious? He’s also far too young and with far too much hair in the way he brushes it across his face, akin to a Bobby Charlton comb over, but it’s all part of the stylishly shabby and road weary look he cultivates. It’s far from the sophisticated style of his beloved Italy which provides ample inspiration for a proportion of his material, lyrical references popping up in all sorts of places. But less of the catwalk commentary and onto the music, and when he ambles on unannounced and kicks off with the gentle shuffle of ‘The Station’, it’s one of those ‘worth the ticket price alone’ moments. The acoustic picking in this, the solo version of ‘Blight & Blossom’ and the 17th century harp tune he’s adapted for guitar, make you realise why he’s one of those young musicians who gets painted with the great white hope brush and why his guitar playing ranks him alongside the likes of some of the folk masters.
The band format allowed a slightly different sound with the three piece combo of Blair’s acoustic/electric guitar, keys and drums sounding quite jazzy at times and certainly less folky without the usual presence of Kat Gilmore on fiddle. It obviously gave a different feel to three new songs played in the set, including one based on an unlikely political/social commentary around the idea of city centres reported as no go zones, and it was good to hear the development from the material from his last album ‘House Of Jacks’, now almost a year old. One new song even namechecked Manchester and Joy Division, which in the city which is the home of the Haceinda may have passed many people by, but look out for that one if it gets recorded for his third album.
As always, a pleasure to listen to Blair play and check on his progress and matching him up with Emma Stevens for some degree of crossover appeal in their audiences seems to have been as good a move as it sounds.
Photos by Mike Ainscoe – Full set here