Monday, 9 October 2017

Tom Hickox

5th October 2017

Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh

The older I get, the more I begin to believe there is something fundamentally wrong with this planet.  Or, at least, with the musical tastes of whole swathes of the carbon-based bipeds who dominate it.

Tom Hickox had released his debut album War, Peace and Diplomacy in 2014 to almost universal critical acclaim.  “Rare and bold new talent” and “Hickox has created a modern classic” were just two such from heavyweights The Telegraph and The Guardian respectively.

Tackling such prickly subjects as domestic abuse (Out of the Warzone), people trafficking (The Pretty Pride of Russia) and Islamist extremism (An Ordinary Boy), the songs were stripped to the bone constructions presented in Hickox's warm, rich baritone, which reminded one of Leonard Cohen and at times, Nick Cave.  Whilst White Roses Red, dripping with melodramatic minor chords touched base with the likes of Brecht and Brel.  

The album was by no means easy listening, but was nevertheless a collection which never stopped giving the more one listened to it.  A TV appearance on Later With Jools Holland followed, with Hickox touring regularly, often in the company of Richard Hawley's guitarist Shez Sheridan.

And yet, to my mind, incomprehensibly, this evening Hickox succeeded in tempting no more than about 50 inhabitants of the city of Edinburgh out of their homes and into The Voodoo Rooms.  I really do despair.

Roseanne Reid - Edinburgh Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh 2017

Support for the evening Roseanne Reid found herself performing her set to perhaps just over half that number.  Her opening few songs, on first listen, appeared a touch lightweight I have to say.  But it was actually rather difficult to tell, as the vast majority of the thirty or so folks in the Speakeasy had decided just to talk over the girl's performance.  Clearly deciding nothing the performer had to say could possibly be of more import than what they had to say to their neighbour.

At one point the thrum became so loud, I almost considered standing up and politely but pointedly requesting anyone who wished to yak to make their way to the bar.  But I am too much of a weed to actually do such a thing, and anyway I was not sure Ms. Reid would have appreciated me doing so.  I am sure she is more than capable of looking after herself.

But as Roseanne commenced her third or fourth song, Sweet Annie, something ever so slightly magical occurred.  Everyone in the room just shut the fuck up, and began to listen.  

Now it may have just been coincidence that they all finished their oh-so vital conversations at the same time, or perhaps the realisation that they were hearing what sounded intriguingly like a lesbian love song had peaked their curiosity, I don't know.  Personally I like to believe the turn-milk-sour scowls I had been targeting at the motor mouths had finally produced the desired effect.

Whatever the cause, the result was we could now all now appreciate Roseanne's tunes for what they were: intelligent, well-constructed compositions, sung with a lilting twang half Caledonia/half Nashville.  Levi in particular sounded rather special.  

Tom Hickox - Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh - October 2017

Tom Hickox appeared in rather more casual attire than usual this evening; gone was the brown three-piece suit and tie.  Thankfully the beard remained.  For without it I feel he would end up looking just a tiny-bit too much like Mad Boris.

He is promoting his second album just now – a far more varied collection than his debut, entitled Monsters in the Deep.  Indeed, the title track and The Dubbing Artist are each positively bouncy affairs, although Istanbul's jauntiness does appear a touch forced at times.  The Fanfare rattles along in fine style; sounding like Julian Cope from his Skellington days.  (Tom toured with Julian earlier this year – coincidence I am sure).

Perseus and Lampedusa (neat wordplay, Sir) is the collection's highlight; tackling with a remarkably light musical touch, the plight of those African migrants attempting to cross the Med in their cockleshell boats hoping to reach land in the EU.  And the occasionally less than welcoming reception awaiting them.

The only real downside to the collection is the brace of weak fillers which close it out.  Perhaps tellingly, neither of those were performed this evening. 

Shez Sheriden & Tom Hickox - Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh - October 2017

Another new one, A Man of Anatomy (I have not a clue what this one is about, it talks about soap bubbles!) opened the show, and Hickox immediately had the room in the palm of his hand, as he proceeded to perform the majority of both of his albums.  The only song new to me was The Ballad of Thomas Hurndall – a paean to the photojournalist shot by an Israeli soldier some years back.  

For The Plough, all the amplification was switched off completely: leaving just Tom's voice and Shez Sheridan's acoustic guitar.  What a delight it was.  I sat just a few feet from the guitarist and watched with an undiluted mixture of envy and awe as the fingers on his right hand deftly picked the strings, whilst those on his left effortless danced from chord to chord.  It is rare one gets to see a master at work so close-up.

The pair played us out with Let Me Be Your Lover.  I am unsure the extent to which (if at all) Hickox's tongue is in his cheek with this one, for lyrically it at feels at times like like a Poe poem parody.

Chatting with Tom afterwards at his merch stall (suitcase, actually) about the pro and cons of Spotify, I was a touch taken aback to see printed Tom Hickox tea-towels amongst the paraphernalia.

No ordinary rock and roller he.

Set list

Man of Anatomy
White Roses Red
The Pretty Pride of Russia
The Dubbing Artist
Angel of the North
Out of the Warzone
The Ballad of Thomas Hurndall
The Lisbon Maru
Perseus and Lampedusa
Korean Girl in the Waiting Room
The Plough
A Normal Boy
Monsters in the Deep
Let Me Be Your Lover

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