Friday, 11 November 2016

Will Varley

8th November 2016

King Tut's Wah Wah Hut, Glasgow

I didn’t catch The Proclaimers this summer, but was aware that the support for much of their tour was a chap by the name of Will Varley.  Generally I have found Craig & Charlie to be rather good judges of up and coming talent so, consequently, as net-surfing background music, I would occasionally click on one or other of Will's numerous YouTube videos.

And although Varley brings a certain folkie flavour to much his work, I found myself being reminded of early Billy Bragg at times when I watched/listened to such songs as We Don’t Believe You, Marriage and Wars and Advert Soundtrack.  He employing to good effect a similar strident, socialist courage-of-ones-convictions thing that the Barking Bloke employed – indeed, still does.  It is something I have never quite achieved with any of my generally wishy-washily held viewpoints.

But amongst these politically astute rants, I would occasionally come across other witty, funny, and occasionally surreal, compositions -  Self Service Checkout Shuffle, I Got This Email, Talking Cat Blues – which had me recalling the late (and very great) Jake Thackray.  

But it was only when I stumbled upon the heartrendingly poignant Man Who Fell To Earth that it began to dawn upon me there was clearly a whole lot more to this Varley chap than just some irreverent Left-wing leaning troubadour.

Will Varley - Glasgow Nov 2016

Utterly at home on stage this evening in the intimate atmosphere of King Tuts, with his disarming smile and an endearing line in f-word sprinkled chat, he ran through the gamut of emotions in his relatively modest-sized set-list. He could have easily fit in at least three other songs, had he not stopped midway through many to make wry observations or chat with audience members.   

He even indulged the odd chap who had wandered to the side of the stage proffering what looked like a half-drunk pint of beer.  Inviting him up on stage, Varley almost embarrassed the clot into proposing to his girlfriend, before wisely drawing the situation back from that particular precipice.

The singer accompanied himself throughout on acoustic guitar utilising a remarkably efficient technique, often simply caressing the strings with his thumb.  I have been to so many gigs in smaller venues over the last few years where the performers have had to battle with the thrum of background chatter.  

But it was telling here that, even during a couple of new-album low-key tunes one really could have heard a pin (well, perhaps a knitting needle) drop, such was the audience's rapt attention.  This guy, I thought, really is something rather special.

I pondered how, thirty years or so ago he may have, rather like the aforementioned Billy Bragg, perhaps been able to elbow his way into the national consciousness with a “hit” single.  But this route appears closed down to performers these days.  Those with any interest in the man can easily access all his work for free via the internet.  Quite how the likes of Varley make ends meet, I have no idea. 

After closing the set with a new song, When She Wakes Up, Varley laid his guitar on the floor, and wandered off stage.  As you do.  But rather strangely, once the applause had died down there appeared no real clamour for an encore; the audience seemingly taking it for granted Will would return to perform what is probably his best known song King for a King.

But he did not reappear, and I thought “Good for You”.  If we, the audience, cannot be bothered to request and encore, why should we get one?

But then again, perhaps his nattering meant he had run out of time.

Will Varley - Glasgow Nov 2016

Will Varley - Glasgow Nov 2016

Will Varley - Glasgow Nov 2016

Will Varley - Glasgow Nov 2016

Set list

To Build a Wall
Weddings and Wars
Seize the Night
Advert Soundtrack
Send My Love to the System
From Halcyon
A Monkey on a Rock
One Last Look at the View
Talking Cat Blues
Until the Grass Gets Greener
The Man Who Fell to Earth
As for My Soul
We Don't Believe You
When She Wakes Up

There were two support acts this evening.  First up was one John L. Harvey, who entertained us with a solo acoustic set.  Whilst his Caledonian brogue suggested he was probably born and bred within walking distance of King Tuts, his singing voice sounded not unlike Nick Drake.  Visually he slightly resembled James Taylor (or Taylor in his Sweet Baby James days), and I should not be the least surprised were I to learn Harvey was a keen fan of both.

John L. Harvey

The Lion and the Wolf, by marked contrast, were an electric trio who appeared to be a platform for the vocal/guitar/songwriting talents of bearded beanpole Thomas George.  Whilst he could plainly play his guitar more than a bit, the louder tunes unfortunately found his rather, at times, plaintive voice lost in the mix.  

The music was generally of the innocuous Nineties Indie variety, although I found I really did enjoy the work of the bass player, and had I been let loose at the mixing desk, I know which knobs I would have twiddled.

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