Although not featuring in the FATEA end of year awards ("shame" they all cried ;-)….Jim Moray's 'Upcetera' album was a personal highlight of 2016. The not to be missed chance to experience the live incarnation necessitated a not too turbulent trip to the Liverpool Philharmonics splendidly intimate yet classy Music Room for one of a handful of dates round the country which saw Jim taking the album on the road with a three piece electric band plus string and brass 'Upcetera ensemble'. An ambitious undertaking no doubt but one totally justified in bringing the thrill of an outstanding set to the stage. A stage too, set with a moody backdrop and featuring an impressive range of musical kit. Slightly back of centre stage stood an open lid retro record player which paired with the Apple Mac atop the keyboard rig, gave a 'spanning the generations' aspect to the visuals in much the same way as 'Upcetera' provides a modern musical sheen to some songs whose roots lie deeply in the past.
Switching between acoustic and electric guitar, ukulele and finally taking a place at Jacob Stoney's keyboard rig for 'The Straight Line And The Curve', no-one could complain at a run through of the album pieces plus a choice selection from the back catalogue. The band occasionally allowing Jim the rare opportunity of standing hands free with no instrument and the chance to focus fully on his delivery while also checking out his frontman moves with the mic stand.
So "welcome to Upcetera" - the less musically complex yet frankly overwhelming 'Sounds Of Earth' - the narrative which pulls together the details of the Carl Sagan's Voyager mission and its record made of gold combined with an underlying simple love story - and the ukelele led 'Eppy Moray' might be more stripped back in their arrangements, yet the band had more than sufficient moments to come into their own. Not just the subtly sweeping orchestrated moments either; 'Edward Of The Lowlands' moving from sparse acoustic to before a blast bagpipes and reedy organ and a chance for the full band to literally rock out. While 'Foggy Dew' swung along, the brief yet statuesque 'Lord Franklin' gave an opportunity to wonder how someone can give so much meaning and commitment to singing a line about an eskimo in a skin canoe…
Cherry picking from the remainder of the Moray catalogue reveals an embarrassment of riches. Ultimately, the 'Skulk' album's 'Seven Long Years' with its massive choral climax underplayed somewhat and his 'Earl Brand'/'Lord Douglas' signature piece remain standouts. It all comes topped off by a timely encore which proved perfectly appropriate in our planet's politically turbulent times. Plucking 'That Could Never Happen Here' (no prizes for guessing the content or message) from the songbook and presenting solo on acoustic guitar is one which is bound to feature on Jim's upcoming solo dates, plus a splendidly dignified and string drenched take on Dick Gaughan's 'Jock O'Hazeldean' rounded off a sublime evening.
There's no doubting that with the 'Upcetera' album and show, Jim Moray continues to enhance his reputation as a groundbreaking artist. A template rooted securely in the folk tradition yet totally courageous in stretching and shaping the canvas with audacious strokes.
There are only so many hours in a day and only so many gigs we can get to. We'd really like to expand our national coverage of the live scene as it remains the life blood of music.
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