Ellis Paul returned to the place where five years ago he made his UK debut to find that the show had been moved ‘upstairs’ i.e. to a larger venue (on the strength of advance ticket sales) that it was packed out with all seats filled and only standing space available. He was jokingly introduced to the audience as ‘a long-haired, waistcoat-favouring American singing MOR acoustic country-folk’, which is how he’d been written up in a London listings magazine!
The long-haired description was right; the waistcoat wearing part wasn’t but that was corrected when he was presented with one to wear (and very natty it was too, patterned with car number plates from each US state), the American part was also right but the reference to MOR acoustic country-folk wasn’t – his music is far from being ‘middle of the road’. One of the leading lights of the Boston school of songwriting he together with the likes of Martin Sexton, Dar Williams, Patty Griffin and Shawn Colvin played no small part in stimulating the folk revival of the 1990’s. An award-winning musician, whose songs have appeared in film and TV soundtracks, he has built up a loyal following, touring extensively in the US so it was wonderful to see him return to the place where he previously, to quote a fellow reviewer ‘lit a flame that is likely to burn this side of the Atlantic for a very long while to come’.
Playing two sets, Paul’s choice of material ranged from 1994’s STORIES with Here She Is right up to the current day with a new song Kick Out The Lights inspired by a story about Johnny Cash being banned from the Grand Ole Opry for kicking out the stage lights, yes all 52 of them!
Paul almost immediately mentioned the passing of his friend and mentor Bill Morrissey, the previous day. Overshadowed in the news by Amy Winehouse’s demise, also on July 23rd, Morrissey’s death was much harder to bear for those like Paul, who grew up in New England and were inspired to followed the path laid out by the critically acclaimed singer, songwriter, poet and author. Morrissey produced Paul’s first commercially released album SAY SOMETHING in 1992 so their association was a long-standing one. In tribute to both Morrissey and Winehouse Paul played two songs this evening Jukebox on my Grave and Martyr’s Lounge. In the former he sings about having a jukebox on his grave instead of a headstone and in the latter he envisages deceased celebrities hanging out at ‘Leo’s – a bar in heaven’ and imagined that Morrissey and Winehouse would be sharing a drink there!
With many facing challenging times across the world, Paul dedicated Mark Erelli’s The Only Way to the people of Norway recognizing the pain and suffering inflicted by the Oslo bombing and Utoya shootings, and Hurricane Angel (originally written in response to ‘Katrina’) to the victims of natural disasters across the globe this year – hurricanes, tsunamis and earthquakes. He lightened the mood considerably when encouraging the crowd to sing along on a sequence of songs Kick Out the Lights, Lights of Vegas, Dragonfly and Alice’s Champagne Palace. The first set ended with Annalee unplugged and in the audience, much to the surprise of a young couple from Devon sitting in the front row. He repaid them later encoring the evening with The Speed of Trees and dedicating it to them.
An assured performance, mostly originally penned material with just a few covers, he had the full room wanting more and much applause greeted his comments about promising to come back ‘now that his daughters are old enough to look after themselves – they are seven and four years old’!
The opener during Paul’s short UK tour was Lizanne Knott, a singer/songwriter who has headlined shows on both sides of the Atlantic. A particular favourite with BBC’s Bob Harris she played a six-song set to warm appreciation. Opening with Holiday, her vocal style is intimate, gentle and delicate; she writes from the heart viz. Too Much Love and has a new album in the works. We got a taster of what is to come when she played Miss You. Knott will be returning in the spring to tour behind its release. In recent years she has become well known to UK audiences through radio airplay and has garnered many fans here.