JOHN GRANT WITH RICHARD HAWLEY & BAND + CONCHÚR WHITE – BRIGHTON DOME 22.9.23
If I was to mention “Virginia Patterson Hensley”, then it’s likely a majority of folk would say “who?”, but if I said “Patsy Cline”, then it’s likely many would utter “ah yes, one of the most influential vocalists of the 20th century!”.
Sadly, Patsy passed away at the peak of her fame (before my first birthday), as a result of a plane crash in a forest outside of Camden, Tennessee on 5th March 1963. Her recovered wristwatch had stopped at 6:20pm and the plane was found some 90 miles from its Nashville destination. She was only 30 years old, but her legacy is still going strong even after 60 years.
Patsy began recording in the mid-1950’s and was one of the first country music artists to cross over into pop music, after the single ‘Walking After Midnight’ had thrust her into the spotlight. The following singles tightened her position on the top: ‘Crazy’ written by Willie Nelson, ‘Three Cigarettes In An Ashtray’ written by Eddie Miller and W.S. Stevenson and ‘I Fall To Pieces’ written by Hank Cochran.
Patsy’s distinctive voice and interpretation buries deep into the listeners soul and her work has influenced countless others including Brenda Lee, Linda Ronstadt and k.d. lang, and one John Grant who is standing before us this evening at a sold out Brighton Dome Concert Hall.
During the second song of tonight’s set, (‘Never No More’), John Grant informed us that he has been a big fan of Patsy since the mid 80s, when at the time he was listening to acts such as Skinny Puppy, Fad Gadget, Cabaret Voltaire, Ministry, Visage and the like. But when he saw the ‘Sweet Dreams’ film, that came out in 1985, starring Jessica Lange as Patsy, he agreed with his sister and they were both totally hooked.
Brighton based Bella Union recording artist Grant is always one for pushing boundaries and testing himself and so he had the idea of performing his favourite Patsy songs and doing a few concert dates in celebration. He informed us tonight that he called up Richard Hawley asking him if he knew any artists that would be interested in this project. Rather than suggest other names, Hawley stated that he and his live band would do it. Thus they got it together and solidly rehearsed in a studio in Manchester for five solid days and this evening’s performance is the result of that.
Tonight is the second of four select concerts, with last night’s having taken place at The Fire Station in Sunderland. Tomorrow they set off to play the Warwick Arts Centre and on Sunday they conclude at the Barbican in London.
This evening’s sold out performance commences at 8:46pm after the intro track ‘Started Out A Walkin’ by Melvin Endsley had seen the six musicians grace the stage. Guitarist Shez Sheridan, bassist Colin Elliot, keyboardist John Trier and drummer Dean Beresford strolled on first and took their seats, then famed guitarist Richard Hawley also entered stage right (our left) and finally John Grant graced us with his presence. The musicians were seated for the duration of the performance, which lasted 101 minutes (until 10:27pm) and Grant was very much centre stage and in control of proceedings.
The performance began with Grant saying “good evening” and adding “it’s a pleasure to be here tonight!”. The band struck up the chords of ‘Crazy Arms’ and the bossa-nova style tune was delivered, after which there was an enthusiastic roar from the crowd. They had already conquered and could have simply left it there but, in all honesty, they still had a further 20 beauties to deliver.
‘Never No More’ was the next selection and half way through singing the tune Grant introduced “Mr Richard Hawley”, cue more applause! ‘Walking After Midnight’ was the third selection which witnessed Shez Sheridan putting his lap steel guitar through its paces, during this country blues tune. It’s worth noting here that throughout the whole performance the two guitar technicians positioned either side of the stage, walked the most footsteps this evening, as after virtually every tune, Hawley’s and Sheridan’s choice of instrument was swapped. I honestly don’t believe I have ever witnessed so many guitar changes during a performance before, but I tell you what, it was certainly worth it, as the sound each time was absolutely spot on and every single word could be clearly heard! So congratulations to Ber the sound technician.
Tune four was ‘There He Goes’ which for me signalled a Slim Whitman style vocal delivery courtesy of Michigan born Grant. ‘Just Out Of Reach’ was hot on its heels and showed us what a versatile performer Grant is, from his own material, to that with the Kraftwerk styled Creep Show outfit, to his previous work with his band The Czars (from 1994–2006), to adapting to tonight’s Patsy Cline songs.
Next up was the simply titled ‘Shoes’ which benefited from a more swinging beat than its predecessors, and very soon ‘Loose Talk’ was upon us and this too bopped merrily along and was my favourite selection thus far. It was then big moment time for Grant as the guys had selected to play ‘I Fall To Pieces’ which Grant and his sister had witnessed in the ‘Sweet Dreams’ film and the song that triggered his deep interest.
The next selection was ‘I Understand’ which witnessed Sheridan on backing vocals, and Grant informed us that they had put a different song into tonight’s set. So I guess this was a change from Sunderland last night. Prior to performing the early rock’n’roll vibed ‘Heartache’, (which proved to be a very popular choice with the crowd) the banter was increasing with the occasional fans shouting “I love you John”, and then one shouted “love you Richard” which sparked him to say that it was his night off tonight and Grant emphasised it was his night off sitting there but was sounding great.
We were now at the midpoint of the set and each song as far as I could tell lasted less than five minutes, so did not outstay their welcome. ‘Strange’ was next and Grant informed us that this tune inspired him to write one of his own compositions(from The Czars days) that they would be performing later in the set and this would be the only one of his tracks. Sadly, for me there were no Richard Hawley tracks, as I’m a sucker for his sound, but I didn’t actually expect any as part of a homage to Patsy. ‘Strange’ benefitted from a cowboy western vibe and I could have imagined Glen Campbell singing this. It’s worth noting that ‘Strange’ featured a great solo from Sheridan as well.
Hawley showed the punters exactly how echoey his guitar could go at the beginning of ‘Sweet Dreams’ and I rather enjoyed this. Grant then flagged up John Trier on his Roland RD-2000 Digital Piano for ‘Stronger Than Me’, whilst he himself offered up his crooning abilities. Grant then spoke to Sheridan regarding his instrument enquiring whether he referred to it as a “slide guitar”, and Sheridan replied “lap steel guitar”. This exchange came about because of Sheridan’s performance on ‘So Wrong’, which gave an air of dreamy distant Hawaiian holidays. I wish there had actually been more slide work than there actually was, but they obviously had to follow the templates of the originals.
It was now throat lozenge time for Grant who had taken sips of water between most numbers in order to keep his vocal chords in tip top condition, but he thought the addition of a lozenge would help. I couldn’t hear anything wrong with his vocals, but he’s the expert. A punter enquired what flavour was it and the unusual retort back from Grant was “can shit”. Hmmm might have been a Fisherman’s Friend lozenge then? ‘Your Cheating Heart’ followed this announcement and it had a yeehaw vibe going down and was very much a big crowd favourite.
‘If You’ve Got Leaving On Your Mind’ was preceded by a statement from Grant “If this next one doesn’t tear you apart, I don’t know what will”. The famous ‘Crazy’ was delivered next and as you would expect just about received the loudest applause thus far. Grant thanked Willie Nelson, who had originally penned the hit. ‘7 Lonely Days’ was the next selection and bopped along nicely as the lads went up-tempo.
Grant introduced bassist Colin Elliot and drummer Dean Beresford before they launched into the toe tapping swinging main set concluding choice of ‘Blue Moon Of Kentucky’. During this Hawley was at his finest and Grant said “goodnight everybody” with a smile and a wave and his new chums played on for around a minute. At its conclusion the crowd showed their true appreciation with joyous handclaps and many cheers and even around half the punters awarded the players a standing ovation.
The artists returned to the stage and Grant informed us that there were to be two other songs and he dedicated the first (‘Paint The Moon’) to his dear friend Simon Raymonde (the Bella Union head honcho) who had been merrily rockin’ away to the tunes the whole set from his seat close to me. Bella Union were overjoyed that this concert had sold out and beforehand put on a little drinks celebration at his new record store which is situated just up the road from Brighton Dome. Keen folks were there and many conversations were stuck up and the staff were really buzzing, especially Holly who is from local outfit Currls. ‘Paint The Moon’ had a Chris Izaac ‘Wicked Game’ vibe going down and was one of the set highlights for me.
They closed their set with Grant’s ultimate Patsy song, ‘If Only I Could Stay Asleep’ which he references the music stylizing the falling of the leaves from the trees. I enjoyed this number and it reminded me of the wonderful Bobby Goldsboro hits of my youth. At 10:27pm that was our lot and many fans were discussing what they had just witnessed on their way out of the venue, such as Grant’s commanding jovial stage presence, and the quality of the musicianship on offer this evening. Indeed it had been a crème de la crème of country pop from some of the finest performers around. With songs spanning romance, heartbreak and drama – with a good dollop of joy.
John Grant with Richard Hawley & Band:
John Grant – vocals
Richard Hawley – guitars
Shez Sheridan – lap steel guitar, guitar, backing vocals
John Trier – keys
Colin Elliot – bass guitar
Dean Beresford – drums
John Grant with Richard Hawley & Band setlist:
(Intro tape) ‘Started Out A Walkin’ by Melvin Endsley
‘Never No More’
‘Walking After Midnight’
‘There He Goes’
‘Just Out Of Reach’
‘I Fall To Pieces’
‘Stronger Than Me’
‘Your Cheating Heart’
‘If You’ve Got Leaving On Your Mind’
‘7 Lonely Days’
‘Blue Moon Of Kentucky’
‘Paint The Moon’
‘If Only I Could Stay Asleep’
For those that wish to find out more about John Grant and Richard Hawley, you can read our two previous concert reviews that both took place in 2021 at the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill-on-Sea. The John Grant review is available HERE and the Richard Hawley review is available HERE.
Support this evening came from Conchúr White (pronounced ‘Conor’) who hails from Armagh in Northern Ireland and he entertained us with seven selected compositions which ran 25 minutes from 8:03pm to 8:28pm.
This was a simple set which benefited from the impressive vocal work of Conchúr aided by his trusty McNally acoustic guitar. No sooner had he arrived at the centre stage that he launched into ‘Rivers’ and the crowd were totally silent throughout the tune and absorbing every word. This was respectful of the punters, who only moments earlier had been nattering away in the bar area and in their seats.
We learned that Conchúr would be performing numbers from his forthcoming 11 song debut album, ‘Swirling Violets’, which is set for release on Brighton’s Bella Union label on 19th January. Even as tune two, ‘The Woman In The War’ commenced, he had the punters eating out of his hand. The sound this evening was absolutely crisp and clear as you would expect from a venue that has hosted many stars down the years.
Selection three was ‘Killing Us’, which was another self-penned tune. We learned that this singer-songwriter had solely penned all of the tunes on his forthcoming long-player with the exception of one, the album title track ‘Swirling Violets’, which he co-wrote with Iain Archer (although he wasn’t actually named this evening). Conchúr told us that whilst working on the track, that he felt that he knew best until he went to Iain’s bathroom which had all of his gold discs hanging up and Conchúr jokingly informed us that he then had a rethink.
‘Daisies’ was selection five and vocally reminded me of Chris Isaak’s ‘Wicked Game’. The penultimate tune was the first single off the album and was titled ‘I Did Good Today’ which Conchúr said had literally come out just two days ago. After the tune had finished he said that “it’s been pleasant” and left us with ‘Deadwood’. It was evident from this performance that some punters would be checking out his LP. You can check out his work on his Bandcamp page HERE.
Conchúr White setlist:
‘The Woman In The War’
‘I Did Good Today’