Saltaire's Live Room is firmly established as a beacon for lovers of roots, folk and acoustic music. This was Kris Drever's 3rd appearance at The Live Room; the penultimate gig of this particular tour and only 6 months since a superb Lau concert. For this tour the pedals and his trusted Atkins Guitar were left at home in Shetland and instead we had one acoustic Martin D18 he had lying around the house and a mic.
From the opening remark "If I only was going to play songs from the new album, it would be a short gig so I'm going to songs from the past and a couple I haven't played in a long time", we travelled together 90 odd minutes through eight tracks from the new album "If Wishes Were Horses" his first solo in 6 years, four from "Black Water", two from "Mark the Hard Earth" and one from Lau's "Arc Light".
From the opening guitar intro of "Beads and Feathers" from his first solo album "Black Water" the packed audience knew that this was going to be a set of the highest quality. The warm Orcadian lilt of his vocals wafted across the room and his homely Scottish sardonic wit in the inter-song patter drew the audience in making an intimate venue like The Live Room seem even smaller. The opening lines of the melodic "Hard Year" :- "Don't let the TV grind you down, its only fear, the world still rounds the sun once every year" felt more poignant given the previous couple weeks of TV news. The homecoming "Going To The North" was delivered passionately and when Drever briefly closed his eyes and half smiled mid- way through the song, you realised how personal the song is given his 21 years living away from the Isles.
His guitar playing, like his voice, has got better over the years and he is now a master technician. There was no finger picking, and like Dick Gaughan, his plectrum work mixes melody lines with modal chord progressions and deft, often delicate, strumming which was enhanced by the clarity and depth of the sound expertly set up and mixed by The Live Room's Ron Dukelow. I have wondered for the last few years why only a small number of acoustic guitarists including Drever and Sean Lakeman extensively use a partial capo in conjunction with a full one, which while cutting down the time in retuning, adds a lot more colour and an extra dimension to guitar playing. However there were still minor tuning problems with strings appearing to have a mind of their own due to the very warm and clammy room.
The true test for any songwriter is that when the accompaniment is stripped back and the song itself relies on one instrument, the melody and the narrative in the lyrics: can the song still deliver? Drever delivers by the bucket load. The melancholic "The Longest Day", "When the Shouting Is Over", "When We Roll in the Morning" and "I Didn't Try Hard Enough" from the new album show how his writing has developed, becoming more biographical and for me are more expressive as solo pieces when his vocals are centre stage and you can really appreciate what a fine guitar player he is.
There are lots of songs and a few albums out there called "If Wishes Were Horses" and one of those from Canadian Glam Rock band Sweeney Todd has sped up vocals from a very young Bryan Adams to make him sound younger, but that's a tale for another time. Drever's "If Wishes Were Horses" show that the political observations and thoughts are still prominent in the new songs as well as social migration, self-employment, education and his beloved Shetlands. The line "I wish that politicians' ties would tighten up when they told lies" from "If Wishes Were Horses" shows that he can still focus on one aspect of a political situation and build a song around it.
He also has the knack of taking other people's material and making it his own, wringing out every emotional nuance of the lyrics with his soulful vocals. My two favourite versions of Murray Attaway's "Allegory" are Kris's and the Scottish band Rura and Drever's interpretation of the songs cryptic lyrics adds more mystery. The aforementioned Scottish wit particularly shone through on the Drever family history when describing how his dad met his mum also a Drever in Dundee and that Kris was his dad's ninth cousin set up Phil Colclough's "Call and Answer" nicely. I have loved Ed Miller's "Capernaum" taken from a Lewis Spence poem since I first heard the Tannahill Weavers acapella version a few years ago. I've heard both Kris's version with its jaunty almost ragtime influenced guitar playing with both Boo Hewerdine and Eamonn Coyne respectively but never heard it played solo as tonight. It didn't disappoint. Boo Hewerdine's "Harvest Gypsies" written especially for Drever a few years ago shows what a good but hugely underrated writer Hewerdine is.
The pace of the set was good and showed he had carefully chosen the set, balancing the newer songs nicely with the back catalogue. The only disappointment for me was the absense of "The Poorest Company" a song I've adored since the first time I heard it in 2008.
For someone who is on record that he feels playing solo short changes audiences, this was a memorable gig, confidently delivered and lapped up by a very appreciative audience. Hopefully given the thought provoking , worldly political and semi-biographical nature of the new songs and how snugly they fit into a stripped back solo format , will change Kris's mind.
Support act Siobhan Wilson who I first saw on the BBC Alba programme Rapal a few years ago, was the perfect support. Her near fragile angelic voice reminded me of an early Nancy Griffith's and you could have heard a pin drop throughout her seven song set which included songs from her debut EP "Say It's True", her own "Dear God" the classic "I'll Take You Home Again Kathleen " and Serge Ginsbourg's " La Javanaise" which was a reflection from Siobhan's 5 years French sojourn.
All in all a great night which can be re-lived when The Durbervilles play highlights from Kris's set on their BBC Radio Leeds show on Sunday the 24th.
Beads and Feathers (Black Water)
Hard Year (New Album)
Going to the North (New Album)
Wintermoon (Lau's Arc Light)
MYTHE/Longest Day (New Album)
Allegory (Mark the Hard Earth)
Call and Answer (Mark the Hard Earth)
Harvest Gypsies (Black Water)
When We Roll in the Morning (New Album)
If Wishes Were Horses (New Album)
Capernaum (New Album)
When The Shouting is Over (New Album)
Gypsy Princess/Didn't Try Hard Enough (New Album)
Black Water (Black Water)
Poor Man's Son (Black Water)
Chris Light and Photo by Ian Taylor
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.
Are you able to help us and the artist you're seeing out by dropping us a review once you get back home, and maybe even a picture. If you are able to help, Mail Us your review and we'll get it up as quick as we can
The Fatea Showcase Sessions are a series of downloads featuring acts that we've really enjoyed and think that more people should get the chance to hear.
Click Here to get the latest session