Boo Hewerdine

Live Review | The Basement Bar, York | Review by Allan Wilkinson

To me, Holly Taymar is just as much a part of these NxNY events at the City Screen Basement Bar as the floor, walls and ceiling.  Each time I’ve been there, so has she, and on each occasion Holly has provided precisely what is expected of her; some good songs and an equal helping of fun and whimsical banter.  Just the thing to warm the place up at the beginning of the evening, especially on such a cold night as this.  Tonight Holly started with a couple of songs from her current CD Before I Know, “Home” and the jazz inflected “Fairground” sandwiched between two other, presumably newer songs, “Waking Up is Hard to Do” and “Keeping Time”, a song originally written for a university project, hopelessly labouring under the notion that it was Stravinsky-inspired.  But we know different don’t we Holly?  Roscoe La Belle, a local four-piece band consisting of singer/guitar player Chris Ryan together with Jo Griffin (guitar), James Chisholm (drums) and Simon Bolley (bass), played a short set of sensitive songs reminiscent of Damien Rice.  Opening with “Soldier”, Chris and Jo eased us into their set before being joined by the rest of the band for the more up tempo “Beside Your Shadow”, which had toes tapping throughout the bar.  Dedicating “Always You” to his wife, Chris rounded off the band’s short set with a tender ballad culled from a much darker place.  Kicking off his set with an unplugged “Dangerousdays”, Manchester-based Dave Hulston quietened the Basement Bar audience with a selection of finely crafted songs, some of which have been around for a surprisingly long time.  It’s difficult to put an age to Dave Hulston, but a 1980s version can be googled to reveal a fresh-faced Steve Howe/Hunky Dory-period David Bowie lookalike.  Not much has changed as the fashion conscious songwriter found his way to the Basement Bar stage, complete with David Lynch style shirt (buttoned up to the neck of course), after being feverishly sought out by Rudie who apparently rediscovered the singer songwriter after a box of goodies turned up unexpectedly, containing an old tape of Hulston from earlier in his career.  One of the songs on that tape, “Julie”, was dutifully resurrected especially for our host tonight.  “Forward” reveals a performer comfortable with a distinctly cool jazz approach; a song probably more suited to a summer’s day than a cold winter night, but welcome nonetheless.  I’m reminded of fellow Mancunian Roy Harper in songs such as “The Knife” and the quirky “Dogs”, in terms of both delivery and lyrical content.  ‘You should’ve chained your dog to a tree’ is right down Harper’s street I should imagine.  There’s a couple of different cover designs knocking about for Boo Hewerdine’s A Live One album.  On the version available for sale tonight, we see a tall bearded songwriter sitting in a laundrette, tentatively fingering his guitar, the square-tiled emptiness being a suitable metaphor for loneliness, solitude and autonomy.  The City Screen Basement Bar in York could almost be seen as the same, with our troubadour hidden away backstage as Holly, Dave and Roscoe La Belle warm up the audience for what could potentially be a night to remember.  I had a chat with him up in the bar, where he sat on a high stool, making him look even taller, thumbing through a local newspaper, half listening to my routine enquiries and half listening to what was going on downstairs.  Boo seemed completely relaxed, having spent the day in York, part of which was in the studios of BBC Radio York, where he played one of his songs, “White Lillies” live on air.  The song was repeated tonight along with several other classic Hewerdine songs, including “Muddy Water”, “Please Don’t Ask Me to Dance” and “Patience of Angels”, songs written for Eddi Reader.  “Harvest Gypsies”, a ‘folk song’ written for Kris Drever, was also performed and so too was “Bell, Book and Candle”, not written especially for, but featured in an episode of Emmerdale, thus providing the song with the reputation of being the most used Hewerdine song for pegging out to.  One by one, each of Hewerdine’s songs, from his impressively prolific repertoire, is revealed as a complete statement; you feel there’s nothing missing in terms of musical structure, lyrical content, or indeed in the performance of these familiar songs.  They’re all neat and tidy, yet soulful and expressive at the same time.  Recently Boo has taken to releasing finely packaged mini-albums; a little too long to be considered EPs and not quite chunky enough to be considered full albums.  Toy Box No 1 and No 2 respectively, contain songs destined to sit comfortably beside the best of Hewerdine’s repertoire, adding to an already impressive body of work.  For “Stone in Your Shoe”, Hewerdine was joined by James, Roscoe La Belle’s drummer, who provided a little snare back beat, presumably an enjoyable chore, repeated on “59 Yards” and the final song of the night “Footsteps Fall”.  Sadly, even the offer of a free CD for anyone in the audience willing to get up and dance failed to attract a single soul.  I was almost tempted…almost.