Gig Review by Andrew Lindsay with Photography by John Bentley

Built as a cinema in 1913 the Holmfirth Picturedrome proclaims itself to be ‘The North of England’s Finest Intimate Music Venue’. That’s a bit of a mouthful but it is nonetheless one of the best places to enjoy live music in West Yorkshire. It’s the audiences that this venue attracts that make it special – they are always up for a good time and bring out the best in the performers many of whom return year after year.

Graham Parker and the Goldtops

Tonight it is the turn of Graham Parker who last played the venue in 2015 and he clearly likes the place. Essentially a singer-songwriter GP emerged in the mid-seventies, along with class mates Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe, to great critical acclaim and went onto record over twenty studio albums. Distilling that down into tonight’s set list is no easy task and cherries like ‘Don’t Ask Me Questions’, ‘You Can’t Be Too Strong’ and ‘Passion is No Ordinary Word’ don’t get picked.

Now part of the trilby hat generation, Parker’s soul/rhythm and blues inflections suggest a gravelly Van Morrison in his jolly ‘Cleaning Windows’ mode. Accompanied by a four piece band, The Goldtops (named after the former dairy cum recording studio in Chalk Farm), they kick off and hit stride with ‘The New York Shuffle’. Lead guitarist Martin Belmont, the only remaining member of GP’s original band, shines on ‘Old Soul’ as does keyboardist Geraint Watkins.

Graham Parker and the Goldtops

‘Things I’ve Never Said’ is introduced as a song from the overlooked Your Country (2004) album “so you would never have heard of it… it’s an alt.country bullshit sort of thing”. It is clearly cherished by GP and features some fine lines: ‘And if our love were dead and cold/I’d curse my empty head/If only I could say/The things I’ve never said’).

Horn sections in rock and soul bands may not be everyone’s cup of tea but I love them. The Rumour Brass (sax/trombone/trumpet) join for ‘White Honey’ and stay for most of the rest of the show which includes a hefty selection from the recently released Cloud Symbols album.

Graham Parker and the Goldtops

“I’m not in the business of giving people what they think they want – so I’m surprised there’s anybody here!”, he quips at one point before launching into another new song: a gutsy and punchy ‘Girl In Need’.

GP claims the ‘young-ish’ crowd make him feel ever older as he dips into the soundtrack of his life on ‘Ancient Past’. The brass section adds a creamy Big Easy swing to some deft couplets: “My cars are in the drawer/They lost their value long ago/I take them out from time to time/They’re worthless, that’s for sure/I love my aspiditras/They’re nurtured so they last/I keep them on the landing/In the ancient past”.

Graham Parker and the Goldtops

The performance is all about the song so extended solos from the excellent musicians on stage are not the order of the day. That’s a shame as the snippets offered do beg for more… the sax playing on ‘Long Shot’ deserved to go on much longer. The point is underlined when Belmont steps into the spotlight for his cover of the early sixties instrumental ‘Rockin’ Hawk’. It is tremendous fun and gives GP (and the audience) a welcome respite. More instrumental breaks please.

The set builds well. A ragged version of the Dan Penn/Otis Redding soul nugget ‘You Left The Water Running (running from these eyes of mine)’ rehearsed that afternoon squeezes out the sparks as the band create a Booker T & the MG’s groove. ‘Not If It Pleases Me’ retains the raw urgency of the original and features some infectious honky tonk piano. ‘Hold Back the Night’ a cover of the Trammps’ seventies disco classic (and GP’s biggest best selling single) ramps up the intensity to close the show.

Graham Parker and the Goldtops

Of the encores ‘Maida Hill’ is the standout. A warm enveloping ballad from the new album it showcases the mellower, more reflective Graham Parker. Glory days, well they’ll pass you by and tonight was so much more than a nostalgic trip down memory lane.

Opening act Jon Allen appeared onstage shortly after 8pm. Word must have got around that this was someone worth seeing as the bar emptied. Promoting his fourth album Blue Flame the economics of the support slot meant that Allen’s horn section which so enriched the album is absent. Alone with his acoustic guitar; fine voice (shades of Paul Carrack and David Gray) and requisite trilby ‘Stay’ still somehow manages to sustain the soul vibe of the recorded version. ‘Dead Man’s Suit’ from his 2009 debut is darkly amusing. As the short set builds to a climax audience calls for his best known song, ‘Joanna’, cause a re-think as Allen acknowledges the inevitable. It is an upbeat performance and the crowd is so thoroughly engaged that clap throughout. Nobody return to the bar until the lights go up.

Jon Allen

Setlist: New York Shuffle; High Horse; Old Soul; Things I’ve Never Said; Back Door Love; Hotel Chambermaid; White Honey; Long Shot; Girl In Need; Ancient Past; Bathtub Gin; Lady Doctor; Dreamin’; Every Saturday Nite; Silly Thing; You Left the Water Running; Not If It Pleases Me; Hold Back The Night; Maida Hill; Rockin’ Hawk; Heat Treatment.

Jon Allen: Night & Day; Tightrope; Sweet Defeat; Sleeping Soul; Dead Man’s Suit; Joanna.

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