Black + Sam Holmes at The Studio, Bromsgrove Artix, UK – 4th May 2014

Posted by Zyllah Moranne-Brown on Sunday May 4, 2014 Under 80s, New Wave, Pop

Gig review by Zyllah Moranne-Brown with photography by Ken Harrison

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Tonight we’re in Bromsgrove at the Artix for what can only be described as an truly intimate gig. This artist released a single that had a domino effect across the charts over most of the world and then found himself struggling with what exactly what the hell was going on. That beautifully melancholic track was ‘Wonderful Life.’ And tonight the elusive Black (aka Colin Vearncombe) is showcasing a range of his songs including the new.

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Hailing from Liverpool, Vearncombe started out way back in ’81.His journey wasn’t an easy one from the start. His first signing with a label wasn’t a fruitful one, and he ended up issuing the first release of ‘Wonderful Life’ on an indie label – it reached 72 in the charts, leading to a more productive deal with a second major label. His debut album ‘Wonderful Life’ made number 3 in the charts and went on to sell 1.5 million copies, featuring top ten singles ‘Sweetest Smile’ and indeed that song. But he was frustrated with the world he had been thrust into – it just wasn’t his scene. Second album ‘Comedy’ was Black at his most lyrical, critically acclaimed, but failed to reach the dizzy commercial heights of the first and made 32 in the UK charts. Third album ‘Black’ was also critically acclaimed, but failed to sell and he departed ways with another major label.

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But that didn’t stop him – albums were issued under his own label, both as Black and under his own name – they continued to sell in Europe but less so in the fickle UK market. He’s released 9 albums independently, and he’s stripped back live – preferring to go solo and acoustic, where his voice was more clearly defined and truly appreciated by his fans. In 2013 the remastered digitized version of album ‘Wonderful Life’ was re-released and he’s currently crowd-funding his new album – due later this year.

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First up we have support act Sam Holmes plus her guitar. A singer songwriter, with lilt-like voice and her lyrical take on life, she’s been inspired by the likes of Nick Drake, Joni Mitchell, Carole King and Amy McDonald. Her set includes ‘Deep Water’, ‘Charlie’ – about a sad lady she saw on a Paris weekend visit (although shed no idea if this woman was called by that name), Bob Dylan cover ‘Make You Feel My Love’ and her “angry song” ‘Falling Down.’ She’s out and about playing the odd gig – you can find out more on her website.

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The Studio is a tiny room and incredibly warm already as onto the tiny stage comes Black joined by guitarist Calum MacColl (the son of folk legends Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger) for their acoustic set. “You alright?” and a quip about toilet queues and that it would probably be a good time to go now, given the audience is all in their seats. First up is ‘Alive’ – it has a country music vibe, whilst ‘Charmagne’ is reminiscent of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Dreams.’ Black still has those deep vocals and is quite chatty (apparently you can’t shut him up when he gets going). He suggest we don’t mess up in front of him – being the observant one who put what he sees into his lyrics – you don’t want to “go into the writer filter.”  Third track of the night and we’re into hit ‘Sweetest Smile’ a sad introspective view – “I think my heart must be made of clay, ’cause everyone said it would be broken someday…”

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He’s drinking water at the mo (avoiding Guinness) to keep up his energy levels. A suggestion that we visit the bar may not be a good one – it’s 9.15pm at the venue and the bar already is closed. ‘California’ and his vocals fill the tiny room  before he explains that his future plans are a new Black album and that we can become ‘patrons’ (it’s all about crowdfunding – see below) and  “…it’s me not begging…” he says and explains he’s showcasing some of the new tracks tonight for this forthcoming venture. ‘Beautiful’ has a Sinatra feel whilst ‘Cold Chicken Skin’ bops along in a mid-west American country style. Black confirms: “No chickens were harmed in the writing of this song…..”

He’s a Bond (as in James Bond) fan – especially of Fleming – and this one is his take on a Bond theme – all big and epic. ‘Sun Flower’ – completed and MacColl hopes Barbara Broccolli is in the audience.  “Love Show’ comes with a quip that they actually managed to complete the song at the same time. ‘Quinns Old Flame’ is his story song; ‘Two Churches’ a power driven epic – starting off with ‘Paint It Black’ melodies. ‘Walk on Frozen Water’ is followed by another chatty interlude where Black and MacColl discuss the timely question “Are you having a good time?” Black concludes with the type of songs that he writes, have you ever know him to ask that? And comments that THAT song of his appeared on a compilation entitles ‘Songs for Miserable B*****ds’… we laugh.

‘Walk on Snow’ is deep and eerie which rises intro a crescendo before dropping whimsically back. Black: “You are a game audience and I respect you, we are about to enter the charade that is the encore, where I go and hide behind something…”  before final track of the main set ‘Fly Up to the Moon’ takes us back to the country vibes.

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So he’s back from whatever he’s been hiding behind with a glass of red wine in hand. And next up is THAT song.  His views on this track are kinda interesting – as he says on his website:

“Once you’ve had a hit, if you can write another song without having that in the back of your mind, you’re not crazy. It’s taken some time to be able to do that. For a long time, I would find myself hearing ‘I like it, but it’s not Wonderful Life’…”

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And he’s just singing, with echo on the mike – no guitar. It remains a beautiful track. Then we have ‘Where the River Bends’, before a song he loves, dedicated to Hugh who’s here tonight “….unless he got bored and left early…” It’s Black’s take on ‘Blue Moon.’

Black is a deep and introspective character and his voice tells a million stories. Accompanied by MacColl on this acoustic set – they clearly have a great time and accompany each other perfectly.  And so if you like Black you have the opportunity to become a ‘patron’ to help fund his new album – in return for exclusives and more. He’s going to be working with legendary producer Calum Malcolm (Blue Nile) and with MacColl. Visit www.pledgemusic.com/projects/black and you can become a patron from everything from the new album download, to signed guitar, to a song written especially for you. By Black.

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Setlist:
Alive
Tomorrow is Another…
Charlemange
Sweetest Smile
California
Beautiful
Cold Chicken Skin
Who You Are
Sunflower
Love Show
Quinns Old Flame
Two Churches
Good Liar
Walk on Frozen Water
Water on Snow
Fly Up to the Moon

Encore:
Wonderful Life
Where the River Bends
Blue Moon

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