Live Music Reviews

Richard Swift @ Water Rats, London

7 November 2006

Richard Swift

Richard Swift

You wouldn’t want to be stranded on a desert island with Leya. Apart from the agony of dehydration, hunger and personal hygiene, one would have to contend with being stuck with four happy go lucky Irishmen who wear designer jeans (the bootcut white fadey types that lots of Eastern European men fall for), can’t stop smiling and who just won’t stop their wisecracking. Despair then turns into a death sentence, when one of said few finds his guitar and starts pulling epic (soft) rock poses making even the lowly prospect of four hours of Snow Patrol unplugged on a Nordic oil rig a good one. While their reception was polite, Richard Swift best summed up proceedings, spending all of two minutes watching the competition, blankly, before trotting back down to his dressing room.

At that point there was literally a man and his dog on the floor. With nothing released in the UK and his first single Beautifulheart out next week, there was nothing to suggest much interest in California’s Richard Swift. But one should never doubt that old chestnut MySpace. No sooner had we been marvelling about our sweet spot, a barrage of punters steamed in. The place was politely jammed, with a metre in front of the stage that no one dared cross into. It was rather ignorant to think that the same reason I was drawn here would not apply to others, because like its shrewd conservative proprietor or not, the now common spam and spate of account hackings, Myspace is doing part of its job, and seeping through things that ought to be brought to our attention.

With his seductive hybrid of early Beatles/Beach Boys, jazz and kooky Americana, Richard Swift deserves the sane world’s attention. That his band of brothers are christened The Sons Of National Freedom, and they carry artwork of a US flag with inverse stars and stripes, perhaps signifies some idealistic effort to bring some.

Certainly an hour in their court will have you in a land where there is no war, mucky politics, an even muckier media, and the slog of day job rigour. Mixing many a bittersweet melody with mini anthems via the ever-so-slight-yet-effective bar changes on the likes of Lady Day or the achingly dreamy Novelist, the Water Rats is more than nibbling out of the palms of Swift’s hands.

Pick up his Novelist EP and you’ll almost feel shortchanged that its antiquated four track glory is lost in a crisp live performance, though Sadsong St still marries Willie Nelson with McCartney wonderfully. His “properly” produced follow-up, Walking Without Effort, is a move towards balladeer / troubadour territory which comes across just as well onstage, with Mexico and Losing Sleep’s Richard Hawley-esque wistful leanings. If MySpace and the media gravy train do the biz, Swift might even go on to characterise the exposure and rise this fine man is due.

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Richard Swift @ Water Rats, London