When Badly Drawn Boy shuffles onto the stage to rapturous applause and sits spotlighted at the piano, the most noticeable thing is his choice of summer outfit. Sat under the hot lights, with a long blanket of hair and shaggy beard he has decided to opt for a trademark thick wooly hat and huge coat while it is 30C+ outside and even warmer still in the clammy confines of the Royal Festival Hall. Why is anybody’s guess, but it may explain his bout of stage-rage as he plays latest album One Plus One Is One in sequence from beginning to end.
Taking us from the fluted title track opener through the Beatles-like Easy Love to the guitar and strings of This Is That New Song, Badly Drawn Boy, aka Damon Gough, ploughs through his new material methodically but it is not long before the strain of such a restrictive approach starts to take its toll. During the opening bars of Another Devil Dies he bursts out laughing and has to start all over again, composing himself before continuing with Elizabethan-flavoured harpsichord instrumental, The Blossoms, and recent single, Year Of The Rat.
Four Leaf Clover, however, sees the Mercury Music Award winner storm off the stage returning shortly after with a sunflower prop and an insult for one of his bandmates, and when it comes to Logic Of A Friend he once again stops proceedings to shout, “Start it again, f*** it! No vocals! It’s my fault isn’t it?!”. It is unclear whether this is perfectionism or merely a childish tantrum but he confides “I knew playing the whole album in sequence may be a problem” before playing off-kilter lullaby, Life Turned Upside Down. Gough makes it through the pumping, knees-up piano of Takes The Glory and the peaks, troughs and messy crescendo of Holy Grail to the end of the album and to the interval, clearly relieved his ordeal is over.
Returning to the stage the ‘Boy seems far more relaxed and apologises for his stroppiness saying: “That’s the first time I’ve ever played an album in its entirety and I don’t think I will again”. Allowing himself the freedom to skip through his back catalogue seems a liberating experience and there is far more joy and spontaneity to his performance as he plays B-side Don’t Ask Me I’m Only The President alongside hits Silent Sigh, Once Around The Block and The Shining.
Though seemingly happier than before, towards the end of the set he slips into a cathartic monologue making statements like “I never wanted to be on stage”, “Sometimes I f***ing hate myself” and “No one can criticise my show any more”. This bizarre mix of arrogance, self-belief and self-loathing thankfully ends when a big bass riff leads us into an excellent rendition of Fall In A River, picking the guitar (and himself) up once again. The set closer comes courtesy of the warm emotive strings of torch song How?, the lyrics “How can I give you the answers you need when all I possess is melody?” summing up the night and Gough perfectly.
Narrowly avoiding becoming Badly Drawn-out Boy during this extended set, Gough’s natural talent and excellent songwriting skills shine brightly enough to make up for his sometimes abrasive and petulant character. Whether or not you like Damon Gough the person you have to admire Damon Gough the wordsmith, gifted with the ability to find the perfect, intricate arrangements to hang his poetic love-filled tales on, whether they be soft and sweet or rough and rocky. You do at least have to take your hat off to him.