Gig Review by Sara Reynolds / Gig Photography by Wayne Fox

John Grant

Gemma Ray strikes me as the sort of girl you might see in a Tarantino movie, with her retro beehiveesque hair, and knife wielding guitar strumming, she’s that heady mix of ‘sweet sixteen’ & edgy B girl femininity. Ray has already a large number of album’s under her belt, and brings a selection here tonight along with her bequiffed and enthusiastic drummer, and shoe gazing bass player.

Gemma Ray

It’s hard to define Ray’s music so many are it’s influences, from bottle slide blues to spaghetti western soundtracks, I’m quite surprised to learn she’s not American (but from the south of England). Central to her sound is the use of a customised Hagström guitar, which she wields with ease, later in the set drawing her large blade like a gun and pulling it across the strings to dramatic effect, eventually discarding the knife like a scene from a fairground sideshow. Ray is the perfect lead in to John Grant, the headline act tonight.

Gemma Ray

John Grant is a confident beefcake of a man; if he were in films he’d definitely be playing the cowboy hero. He’s a John Wayne of a man, a man’s man…. in fact an everyman’s man. At the Royal Shakespeare Company tonight Grant’s broad appeal is reflected in an eclectic congregation of seated disciples. From young and old, and from my limited experience, a variety of backgrounds and persuasions.

John Grant

Grant has made no bones about his past lives, his lows, his addictions and more recently his HIV status… but despite everything, coming out of it all is an astonishing set of songs from his two highly acclaimed solo albums ‘The Queen of Denmark’ & ‘Pale Green Ghosts’. The set begins with some of his more melancholy moments, focussing on the subject of relationship breakdown – through, more often than not, a filter of the blackest of humours. These include ’Vietnam’ and ‘’It doesn’t matter to him’. Grant’s voice is unbelievably powerful and I have to say, for want of a better word manly.

John Grant

John Grant is one hundred percent possessed on stage with the conviction of his own being, unapologetic about his vulnerability and past traumas. His once broken heart must now, to some extent be soothed by loving cheers of appreciation and the rapturous clapping of hands. Whoever broke this man’s heart may now wish they had never crossed the path of a sensitive and confessional singer/song writer.

John Grant

To follow is a heart-breaking rendition of ‘Where Dreams Go To Die’. So powerful are Grant’s insights into the facets of relationship breakdown (brought together here through a mastery of lyricism and rendition) that I am simply moved to tears.

John Grant

Later on in the set Grant lifts us up with flashes of brilliance with ‘Outer Space’ and ‘Greatest Mother Fucker’, his Icelandic backing band accompanying him to the summits. Lit in silhouette before the striking backdrop of the Royal Shakespeare staging, there are artificial lightning bolts along with the brilliant pranging of guitars and dramatic ‘Liberace moments’. A sense of breaking through the storm – a metaphor for Grant’s inner turmoil.

John Grant

Despite Grant’s introspective dwellings on his own demons and failed personal relationships, he manages to lift us from the depths and declares that when he came out of a “nervous breakdown” he decided to write ‘Greatest Mother Fucker’. This has the audience tickled pink. Grant’s delivery of this highly original song is unapologetic – filled with personal steel, and when you listen closely, in fact never arrogant.

John Grant

Despite the confessional nature of Grant’s songs he deals with all with humour, to put light where we thought only darkness lay. He said in a recent interview that if you use humour to deal with difficult subjects it’s harder for people to attack you. (He added, that this is a big part of his character, and how he chooses to live life).

The encore has at least half the audience on their feet… and Grant returns admitting “I am an Abba freak” which completely cracks the audience up. Indeed I recently saw Grant on a television programme called “I Love Abba” singing their praises (not literally)… but tonight he does, with a humble rendition of “Angel Eyes”. Not a kitsch euro pop version like the original, but sung like the sweetest of lullabies.

John Grant

To follow is ‘Caramel’, my absolute favourite, it is such a beautifully crafted song, where Grant exclaims his lovers “Heart is a shield” to protect him – one of the most beautiful poems to love I ever heard, quite apt here on the stage of the greatest love story ever told.

The encore has been like returning home after the storm. The whole audience are now on their feet, I believe this is a reflection not just on what they have witnessed, but taking into account John Grant’s being as a whole, it is about how he has made us believe that anything is possible.

3 Responses to “John Grant + Gemma Ray, Royal Shakespeare Company, Stratford-upon-Avon, UK – 22 June 2014”

  1. DB Says:

    A lovely heartfelt review! The man’s a genius. Pale Green Ghosts might well be my fave album of the past few years (it’s on green vinyl too…you’ve got to love the green vinyl!).

  2. Mrs B Says:

    Beautiful review and photos xxx

  3. John Grant at the RSC in Stratford | Eileen's Blog Says:

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