Live Review | The Maze | Review by Allan Wilkinson
There was a strange presence tonight at the Maze as we settled down for what was potentially going to be yet another great night at this popular Nottingham venue. The conspicuous figure of Chris A Cummings, aka Mantler, resplendent in white suit and cravat, wandered in and out between the backstage and main concert areas as the room filled with a healthy sized audience. Who is this strange man? Those who had noticed the posters may have thought that ‘Mantler’ was possibly a local young band, there to gain some useful exposure, but as the slight figure of Virginia-based singer-songwriter Devon Sproule took to the stage to introduce tonight’s support, I imagine everyone’s perceptions of what a support artist at the Maze should be, were probably challenged. As the stocky figure of Mantler made himself comfortable at his Wurlitzer electric piano and twiddled around with his Rhythm Ace drum machine, programming in precisely the required beat, which shortly afterwards produced the kind of rhythms associated with cocktail lounge wallpaper music (think Raw Sex from French and Saunders), the audience shuffled nervously. I thought it was a joke at first and that the Maze had inadvertently adopted the comedy fringe roster and was for a second reminded of the early 1970s Mott the Hoople Rock n Roll Circus tour, where the support was none other than the legendary Max Wall. How wrong. Once Mantler began to sing it all became clear and we were treated to a short set of intriguing songs with a sound reminiscent of mid-period Steely Dan. The Toronto based singer-songwriter is the special guest on this, Devon’s current tour and there was no one in the room tonight enjoying this music more than Devon herself and her entourage, who sat enthralled beside the stage. Towards the end of Mantler’s set, Devon and her band joined him on stage for a final song before a short break. It only goes to show, you really cannot judge a book by the cover. Devon Sproule is seemingly never happier than when on stage with her husband singer-songwriter guitarist Paul Curreri. Why they are not a regular duo I have no idea. I have seen these two artists on several occasions over the past few years and I’ve always been touched by their closeness on stage. Once in Manchester, they actually shared the same chair whilst performing a love song. Tonight, Curreri was happy to take his place as one of the musicians in Devon’s band, together with Ewan Rogers on drums and Andy Whitehead on bass. With no introduction, Paul Curreri eased the band into the traditional song “Weeping Willow” with some emotive lead guitar motifs, the song originally from arguably Devon’s best album to date Keep Your Silver Shined. The album was represented by a further couple of songs, both of which would have required a note had they been missing from the set, “Old Virginia Block” and “1340 Chesapeake St.”, as well as the beautiful autobiographical title song itself, one of Devon’s defining moments and on this occasion augmented by Chris Cummings’ harmony vocals and electric piano. “Stop by Anytime” was also present in the set and it quite possibly could’ve been the reason some of the audience were here tonight, Devon having performed the song on Jools Holland’s Later show a while back. For anyone familiar with Devon Sproule’s work over the last few years, most of her fifth album Don’t Hurry for Heaven, would more than likely be very familiar. Most of the songs have been in her live repertoire for a while and some of the songs have been available as recorded demos on the celebrated Valentine’s Duets, which have been available as free downloads via Paul Curreri’s website for a good while, most significantly the title song from 2007 and the couple’s version of Black Uhuru’s “Sponji Reggae” from last year’s Valentine’s Duets compilation. These recordings are a delightful insight into how this couple works, especially on Hoagy Carmichael’s “Two Sleepy People” as well as the recording entitled etc, which is basically a Paul Curreri commentary, accompanying himself on guitar, as Devon makes popcorn, which pops and splutters in the background. I first heard “Don’t Hurry For Heaven” this way and was pleased to see it appear on Devon’s latest album release, not just on the album but as the title song. It contains one of Devon’s best lines ‘So if you love me even half as much as you love your old Martin, you should be practicing on me just about every…’, which was conveniently amended tonight to address Curreri’s ‘Tele Reissue’, his guitar of choice. Devon’s guitar of choice is a vintage 1954 Gibson ES125, the ‘love of my life after my husband’, which she put to good use tonight. During a brief silence after being called back onstage for an encore, a member of the audience called out ‘time for a “Plea for a Good Night’s Rest?”’ to which Devon and the band willingly concurred. The song, from Devon’s third album Upstate Songs, a significant album that saw the emergence of a truly original artist after a brief two album outing under the single brand name of ‘Devon’, still remains an audience favourite and was performed beautifully well tonight, augmented by Rogers’ atmospheric percussion and Curreri’s intuitive guitar accompaniment.