Whether it is a folk club in Biddulph (2007) or an art gallery in Liverpool (2011), you can see James Grant in any number of small venues but the bigger stages seem to be reserved for his homeland.
It was a pleasant change that he made a return visit to a bigger stage and a really splendid venue in the centre of Bury – even James was quick to note the general ambience and the always helpful staff who contribute to making a successful night for the artist and audience.
The real draw tonight, though, was the presence of the Hallelujah String Quartet. Two years ago James played a series of successful gigs with a string section in tow including Celtic Connections but the gig has rarely been seen south of the border.
Tonight was an absolute delight, with the strings (three violins and a cello) adding resonance, piquancy and pizazz in equal measure. The song ‘Piglet’ (from ‘The Devil’s Debt’) even had the orchestrated vibe of ‘Ode To Billy Joe’.
James’ preamble to ‘Jacqueline’s Shoes’ told us that the engineer having been sent out to record “some stiletto heels” to add ambience to the track did the necessary but wasn’t seen again. There were frequent references to the generally cheerless nature of Grant’s muse. He tries to write an upbeat song but it still turns out “depressing as fuck”. But, of course, that’s why we like him.
We were quickly into a triple whammy of career highlights including the exquisite ‘Walk The Last Mile’. Announced as one of Jive Bunny’s favourite songs (in the late-1980s) it is simply one of the great love songs and, with a haunting string backing, pretty much a perfect rendition.
We’ve seen James Grant performing solo and admired the strength of the songs – even those from his time with Love And Money – and the fact they can be stripped down to basics and may even gain from that transition.
This approach was followed with an excellent version of ‘Baker Street’ which I am sure fellow Scot Gerry Rafferty would have been proud of, with Grant emphasising some fine guitaring in the song’s playout.
Throughout the gig, as ever, James was an excellent raconteur; his flow only momentarily curbed by the persistent call for “I’ll Catch You When You Fall” by a member of the audience evidently the worse for wear. Apparently it was a song played on their wedding day.
This brought back painful memories of Judie Tzuke at this very venue when there was a similar outburst and a call to play a particular tune because the agitator wanted “to get home early”. It must be a Bury thing.
The second half again freely mixed solo work and Love And Money, and once again to great effect with the strings. ‘Strange Kind Of Love’ in particular took on a new lease of life with the typically sympathetic arrangement.
A quite wonderful evening, a great venue, and for a moment I’d nearly forgotten that here – six years earlier – I’d seen the reformed Love And Money. With such riches on offer tonight, an easy oversight.
Review and photos by David Randall
Setlist: Paisley/Jacqueline’s Shoes/Whiskey Dream/Walk The Last Mile/Piglet/Baker Street/This Could Be The Day/ Lips Like Ether/This Is The Last Time/I Can’t Stop Bleeding/Strange Kind Of Love/You’re Not The Only One/Jocelyn Square/Hallelujah Man/Winter/Hallelujah (Leonard Cohen cover)
David Randall presents ‘Assume The Position’ on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Sunday at 22:00 GMT.
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