Review and Photography by John Bentley

Tonight is a really significant gig for BC Camplight (aka Brian Christinzio), as he opens his UK tour in his adopted home city of Manchester. Although he’s been making music for quite a few years it’s only now that he’s started to get the recognition that he truly deserves, with the release of his new album, ‘Deportation Blues’. There’s a real human story behind the album, but more on this later.

B C Camplight, Gorilla, Manchester

First support of the night is The Vanity Project, aka Manchester-based duo Rob Paterson and Flora Jackson. They seem to be well-known on the Manchester scene, but to the uninitiated their exuberant set comes as a bit of a shock, albeit a pleasant one that makes you both pay attention and smile at the same time. The multi-instrumental experimental duo use loop pedals and describe their music as ‘art-pop’: the Bowie influence is fairly obvious just from their attire. It’s difficult to summarise the set, but their on-line biography covers it well – “monologues, interludes and the occasional dance routine” (including taking to the floor of the hall). “They write anthemic ballads about the death of idealism, all of which ooze fun and catchiness”. There’s certainly plenty of fun and the set is very well appreciated.

The Vanity Project, Gorilla, Manchester

The Vanity Project, Gorilla, Manchester

The second support spot for the evening is provided by four-piece Manchester band South Island Son. It’s sunny indie rock with bright vocals and nice twin-guitar work, particularly on the track ‘Barry’.

South Island Son, Gorilla, Manchester

An established singer-songwriter, session musician and recording artist, BC Camplight took up residence in Manchester in 2012, following battles with alcohol, drugs and depression in his native USA. Bella Union records released his critically acclaimed and highly personal album ‘How to Die in the North’ in 2015, but before he could follow-up on its promotion he was deported from the UK. As he explained to Marc Riley on Radio 6 last week, he’s fortunately been able to get back to the UK and Manchester, after being granted an Italian passport, making him eligible to enter the UK (at least until Brexit kicks-in, he joked with Riley). Marc Riley has been one of the big supporters of Christinzio’s music and has nominated ‘Deportation Blues’ as his favourite album of the year.

Fortunately the bad experience and despondency surrounding BC’s deportation resulted in a creative outpouring that has produced his splendid new album. ‘Deportation Blues’ reflects on the experience and emotions of the last few years. Speaking to Marc Riley, BC said the experience had made him a darker and more cynical songwriter. While the album deals with some very heavy subjects it is highly listenable, with really great songs, lyrics, hooks and a sense of humour.

B C Camplight, Gorilla, Manchester

BC is obviously emotional and exuberant to be back on stage in Manchester, explaining that last time he played here it was just before he was deported, although he kept this information quiet on the night. With that he kicks-off the gig with the pounding but melodic title track ‘Deportation Blues’, resplendent in heavy synth. Considering his drastic experiences he has a welcome light and non-didactic touch with the lyrics (“welcome a stranger into your world”, he sings). Likewise in another key song, ‘Fire in England’, the narrative is as a sort of ‘love letter’ (“There is girl who lives in England”) to Theresa May (then the Home Secretary, responsible for his deportation) urging her to lighten-up.

Many of the vocal harmonies are Beach Boys-inspired, as on ‘You Should’ve Gone to School’, one of the highlights from the ‘How to Die in the North’ album. Most of the setlist tonight comes from these last two, very strong, albums. There are also shades of Tame Impala (melodies and harmonies) and Eels in BC’s music, but he is certainly an original writer and performer and not derivative.

B C Camplight, Gorilla, Manchester

BC has assembled a cracking-good band for the tour, some of the members of which played on the new album. At times barely visible amid fiercely flashing strobe lights, BC occupies centre stage in peaked cap and dark glasses, seated at his piano, rising from time to time to sing, gesticulate or play some guitar. On ‘Lord, I’ve Been On Fire’ he pumps the piano rock ‘n’ roll style, like Jerry Lee Lewis. On a couple of songs (notably ‘When I think Of My Dog’, a song about his canine companion, Frankie) the band leave the stage leaving BC to sing solo at the piano. As he sings he turns to look at an image of Frankie on the screen behind.

One thing we learn tonight is that BC Camplight is a powerful performer and a varied and versatile artist, equally capable of a sensitive solo ballad, thundering rock or an instrumentally complex band composition.

B C Camplight, Gorilla, Manchester

BC comes across as an utterly sincere artist whose music comes from the heart. He invites the audience to join him in the bar afterwards and he means it. As we reach the end of the gig he light-heartedly explains that after the ‘fake’ last song the band will leave the stage and then come back on for the ‘encore’. The encore is the amazing ‘I’m Desperate’, a sort of flat-out, unhinged Arcade Fire with pounding rhythm and warbly synth – the perfect climactic finish.

BC Camplight Setlist: Deportation Blues; I’m In A Weird Place Now; You Should’ve Gone to School; Midnight Ease; Am I Dead Yet; Grim Cinema; When I think Of My Dog; Just Because I Love You; Fire in England; Lord, I’ve Been On Fire; Atom Bomb; Thieves in Antigua; I’m Desperate.

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