Why oh why in this day and age does Ed Harcourt only have a crowd of 150 in an established Bristol venue? Was it lack of promotion, not enough radio plugging of his new best of album, or that the good people of the West Country, God forbid, had something else to do on a Friday night?
Who knows and who cares. What it comes down to is that Ed, looking casual and relaxed, and with all the prowess of a musician reaching out to his longing crowd, was there, playing his little heart out. His airy, sweet voice filling the room during all his career ‘classics’ from Visit From The Dead Dog and Hanging With The Wrong Crowd to Born in the 70s and Something in My Eye.
The light brushes on the drums and the woody double bass, sometimes magically bowed, were the perfect accompaniment to a little electric guitar and Ed’s own brand of mesmerising piano. A slower than usual rendition of Loneliness was one of the highlights. The lights had been brought down low and the upbeat tale of misery was chopped down to its bare essentials, the girly choir-like chorus sung by the audience – extremely badly may I add – but endearingly too.
But, no matter how good and how talented Ed is, something was missing. The band was there, the fans were there, if only in small numbers, the beer was there, but the twinkle in Ed’s eye had faded. After the show, he seemed content with his ‘listening crowd’ as one of the bouncers so poetically put it. So what could it be? Maybe it was that, after so many years of his renowned drunken antics, he was gigging sober or maybe it was that the ‘best of’ tour was going over old ground. “I’m playing for two hours straight each night,” he says, worried that my concern for his own enjoyment was a criticism.
“It’s tiring and sometimes it can be hard. There’s only so much I can do and record companies are cutting back. It’s going to be good for me to get out. “I’m more of a studio performer these days. And I’m playing sober and I got married two years ago. Not to say I don’t appreciate people coming to see me, I’m really glad that people still want to listen to my music. I’m happy. Really.” My heart breaks.
Before me I see a man who has just played his heart and soul out to a quiet, light palm-tapping audience, but he seems to have lost faith. Why, when the previous two hours were so full of beauty and great talent? Ed’s songs are unique among an industry iced with indie kids more content with getting in the columns of Bizarre than on people’s I-pods, and he’s still only thirty.
Despite all the woes, Ed still came back on stage for a cracking encore, including the lovely This One’s For You, and put his all into the performance. Such a wonderful singer/songwriter should be beaming with glee from his years of success. Now it’s up to his audience to show he’s still very much loved.
Ed is joined on his travels by part Brit, part New Zealand band The Veils, following their North American tour. The heavy mix of Nick Cave vocals with a touch of rasp and Editors‘ deep tremor, a bit of Jack White eccentricity and the rocking melodies of Led Zep crossed with The Sleepy Jackson make for a cracking revelation. So if Ed’s not your cuppa, the gig is worth a visit just for this gem.
The band introduces new material plus a few delights from last year’s Rough Trade release, Nux Vomica.