“Best laid plans” and all that. Due to some unforeseen circumstances I had all but written-off my chances of making this gig but happily managed to arrive just a matter of minutes before DLore took to the stage in his support slot to C.W. Stoneking for my second NAC gig on consecutive nights, after Anda Union on Monday, and my 36th music act in twelve days.
As chance would have have it, I also saw Dan (aka DLore) just a few days earlier in the city at a beautiful Sofar Sounds session. In the dark but pretty full NAC hall he played a flawless set that included the likes of single Them The Days (produced by Piratones bandmate Mikey Shaw at the Dub Cavern), Hieroglyphs, Solace, and his one cover of the night, a unique take on Bad Moon Rising. Slow, dark, sparse and moody. Think of a male take on Amy Winehouse’s slower and black material for atmosphere and vibe, mixing soul, trip-hop and hip-hop on just acoustic guitar and you’ll have an idea of the sort of sound produced. Artist comparisons can be a bit unfair but both Dan and myself are massive fans of Amy and I can’t help picking up on some of the influence there (a good thing in my book) so I hope he won’t mind. On a sparse stage in the darkness it must have been a slightly scary environment to bravely start playing in, solo at that, but as mentioned the set was flawlessly played and his songs filled the room to receptive ears. One of Norwich’s many impressive talents and he did himself proud.
C.W. Stoneking may be familiar to a lot of Red Rooster regulars (many of whom were present tonight, some of us still recovering but still gigging!). This Aussie bluesman on the first date of his solo tour also made a low-key entrance, apologising in advance for being a bit rusty and unwell (“I even tried one of those anti-snoring strips to breathe easier but just ended up with this hickey on my nose!”) Playing solo acoustic and for the most part under a single spotlight with just the occasional plume from the smoke machine for company onstage he was quietly charismatic, self-deprecating and hugely entertaining. Everything was at its most miminal from the lighting and the stage itself. Once tuned into his style and humour one realises this is a master old-time blues, ragtime, hokum, jungle (book) blues storytelling craftsman unafraid of experimenting or drawing attention to any mistakes or failings (“Damn. That’s not the right verse, is it?”) but getting the crowd to be his band, trying out new stuff (“I saw an English band do this on YouTube. They sounded posh!”) and when things went slightly awry closing a song with “Well, thank you for coming to the amateur open-mic night. I was the guy on guitar with a hickey on his nose!” before asking for the lights to be dimmed and the mic switched off whilst he blew his nose! So down to earth and humble and yet he kept a full NAC audience rapt and entertained throughout. A real entertainer putting on a show in its purest form. At one point I myself felt a weird hay-fever, throat-tickle moment that proceeds an awkward coughing fit so I stepped outside into the foyer so as not to break the spell in the hall and noticed that there was not a single audience member either in the foyer, garden, nor even in the bar replenishing their refreshments. This is quite rare and tells you all you need to know about how C.W. Stoneking held his audience captivated for well over an hour and a half but always with gentle humour, brushing aside any mistakes (it’s always about how such things are handled, nobody’s here to listen to a CD recording) and his fantastic blues playing and stories. We even had some yodelling and plenty of audience singing along too.
I have depleted funds these days so couldn’t buy any merch but talking of CDs, the table was a delight with posters, t-shirts and beautiful looking vinyl albums. No CDs though. (“Does anyone still buy CDs? I don’t think so!” he said onstage) but vinyl feels like the only way to listen to him, it would certainly be my choice … apart from the live show itself of course.
A near full-house enjoyed a tremendous, engaging, personal and intimate gig from a musician apparently without ego, happy to make jokes at his own expense and seemingly from another time and place who quietly and gently went about his charming business of sharing great songs and stories in a way that made us all feel connected and in on something very special indeed. That’s exactly what it was. Something very refreshing about the no-frills “It’s-all-about-the-music” nature of this gig, which was full of charm, character, great music and a whole lot of respect for the artist (despite his own digs at himself), I love the way he spoke to the audience like he was simply speaking to another person in a small room or bar such is the intimate atmosphere created.
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