Golden Fable, Pulco, Harry Keyworth - Telfords, Chester
Harry Keyworth has got hands like slabs of stone. By day he's a builder in West Wales; by night he's a gobsmackingly dextrous acoustic guitarist and singer songwriter.
This, he tells us from the stage, is only his fourth gig.
Witnessing his assurance and between song banter, you'd easily believe it was his 400th. He uses a loop station to broaden the traditional sole performer's palette, building a whole rhythm section out of thumps and bangs to various parts of the guitar's body. The loop station (a box of digital trickery, somewhat like a very obedient and autistic tape recorder) also allows Harry the neat trick of being able to harmonise with his own voice. It sounds fantastic.
Gilding the rush of guitars and rhythms is a naturally soulful voice that growls as well as it keens. It's clear within the first 30 seconds that Harry has all the tools needed to hew out some incredible songs and recordings as he progresses. That's not to say that he doesn't have fine songs already, he does. But they do have a tendency to be overshadowed by his dazzling technique.
Harry brings to mind two artists I have witnessed over the years in this venue. The legendary John Martyn, who used to live in a narrowboat moored next to Telford's; and Tommy Emmanuel, whose acoustic pyrotechnics have bedazzled musos the world over. I'd like to hear more of John's soul and wilfulness, less of Tommy's flaring for the sake of flaring (Andy McKee might be a better comparison). But however Harry develops, whichever choices he makes, it's evident we are witnessing the dawning of a significant talent.
And what a strange moment when he segues into Soul II Soul's Back To Life and tries to lead the crowd into a singalong. Most unexpected. And mostly excellent.
Ashley Cooke, aka Pulco, has been here before. He's probably been to most venues before. He toured the length and breadth of the UK with his previous band Derrero. When I introduce him onto the stage, he can't remember how many times he's played here before either.
Neither can he remember all of his lyrics. The stage looks like a tornado has ripped through a foolscap warehouse. Maybe, as he admits from the stage himself, he'd have more chance of remembering the songs if he rehearsed them! But this lack of ego and considered guile is exactly what makes Pulco so endearing and special. Music get action painted in Ash's heart whether he likes it or not. He just opens his mouth and lets it stream out in more colours than most of us can dream in.
It's hugely disconcerting when the voice I introduce him with cedes into a vocal piece I recorded for his most recent album (Small Thoughts). The set then quietly delights us all. What wonderful spells Ashley casts with his slipstream voice, acoustic guitar, an iPod with a few backing tracks on it, and Y Niwl's Sîon Glyn on stylophone (on one song, anyway).
I know Ash liked a bit of Pavement when Derrero were in their heyday, and his songs have a similar sense of the gracefully unexpected as Pavement's quieter and more beautiful moments. But Ash's songs - stripped to their glittering bones like this - remind me most of Jimmy Webb. Place Lid On Me has that minor chord ebb, then ebb again, of Wichita Lineman. That final moment was worth the entry price alone.
Golden Fable are an intricate weave of contradictions and rare wonders. The contradictions? Big bassed loops and twinkling guitars; shy kitten stage presences in Liberace lamé outfits; clouds of dreamy reverb pricked by ice-topped sonic peaks. This is the first time that Tim and Rebecca have toured as Golden Fable.
Previously, in Tim And Sam's Tim And The Sam Band With Tim and Sam, they didn't have to worry about vocals - well, for the most part. There's a underlining nervousness to their set that is understandable when you consider what an evolutionary leap forwards they have taken.
Despite a couple of problems with squalls of feedback trying to storm in and ruin proceedings, Golden Fable triumph. And they do it in the most natural way possible. Towards the end of their set, Tim and Rebecca free themselves from the PA and walk into the middle of the audience, performing a song acoustically, without any amplification whatsoever.
The entire room silences to hear Rebecca's angelic voice. We're as reverent as you'd be listening to a solo chorister kissing the eaves in Westminster Abbey. It's an astonishing moment of shy bravado that encapsulates most of what is wonderful about Golden Fable.
They return to the stage to perform their unique take on the Manic Street Preachers' Motorcycle Emptiness and leave us in the shimmering wake of The Chill Pt. 2. It's a damn fine way to end the night.
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