Live Music + Gig Reviews

Stephen Fretwell @ St James’s Church, London

10 May 2007

As a card-carrying atheist there’s not a lot that will get me inside a church for fear I might start freaking out like that scene in The Omen. But the capital’s churches seem to be making a big splash on the gig circuit, and a canny idea it is too.

The success of the Union Chapel has encouraged other houses of God to let musicians into the pulpit preaching sermons more appropriate for Later With Jools Holland than Songs of Praise. Tonight, it’s time to worship at the church of Fretwell.

It’s been a while since his beguiling debut Magpie, and Fretwell’s set was the perfect opportunity to showcase material for the next LP, which hits the shelves in August. The set was a 50/50 mix of new and old songs with the crowd lapping up the new material as well as cheering for their favourites (and one of the great things about Fretwell is that everyone has a different favourite).

The Ginger Dylan is now sporting a crew cut and looks like your average bloke down the pub, something which suited him well as the Scunthorpe bard’s performance had no pretensions and was an intimate evening full of superb understated moments. The tremendous acoustics in the church enhanced the sound and since the audience seemed to be paying reverence to the nature of the venue you could literally hear a pin drop in between the songs and the well-deserved applause.

The new songs hold a great deal of promise. Usually audiences patiently wait for the more familiar songs, but the new tracks such as the splendid The Ground Beneath Your Feet and Willam Shatner’s Dog (yes, you did read that correctly) made an instant impact. Not even a slight coughing fit could break Fretwell’s stride.

The mumbling intimacy and self deprecation seemed to complement the performance well. However, the choice of venue might have proved a little intimidating for him. Thankfully he resisted the temptation to re-write the lyrics to Magpie’s New York, with it’s beautiful ‘fuck-it’ chorus.

Unlike the Brixton Academies of this world, St James’s Church doesn’t have closing time. It did however impose a curfew and the proceedings were done by 10pm. But on reflection being civilised is a good price to pay for an intimate gig of such amazing clarity. If Fretwell’s performance wasn’t inspiring enough the free plectrums handed out on the door made me dust off my neglected guitar and strum away throughout the night. Great stuff.

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Stephen Fretwell @ St James’s Church, London