Review by Glenn Raybone with photography by Gunnar Mallon.

To further celebrate Hull being City of Culture, 2017, John Grant was asked to curate a musical festival over the May Bank Holiday weekend. John freely admits in interviews that he simply gave a list of artists he loves and would like to see and other people did the rest, but then he’s always been extremely modest.

John Grant at Hull City Hall

The festival covered various buildings in the City, over the weekend, but I was here just for the one day, the Sunday which saw John Grant headline at the beautiful City Hall. Before that honour, I popped along to the Jubilee Church to see Tom Kay, who played some haunting, atmospheric songs. He freely admits to suffering with mind health problems and these are the basis for his songs, but with a guitar, effects pedal and subtle electronic backing he left a clear desire to hear more.

Next, at the same venue, was Nils Bech. A young man, who has an operatic vocal, and his set was a story, each song telling the tale of love, and heartbreak, aided by props from a suitcase. I must admit at one point the story told of his partner kissing another, and his heartbreak at this. You could’ve heard a pin drop, and the couple in front of me looked at each other with sad faces, in fact I think we were all a little moist-eyed. Sadly, Nils had no music to purchase but there are some albums online and I’d recommend the 2016 ‘Echo’ album, a large part of which his set was based on. A truly stunning and thought provoking performance.

I then moved to the City Hall, where the evening opened with Ghostigital, an electronic duo who are more Sleaford Mods than Pet Shop Boys. Their set is much too short at an hour, and the seating layout doesn’t do any them any favours, but Einar Orn covers the whole stage, and venue, at one point jumping off stage to sit in an empty seat “to see what we sound like”, and on the set closer ‘Don’t Push Me’ he’s again in the audience running to the back of the hall and back. The electronic beats and bass by Curver Thoroddsen are embracing, and pull you in, add in the huge strobes and this is really something special. The audience clearly feel the same as they come back for an encore.

Soley is next, fans of John Grant will be familiar with her as she supported him on his early 2016 UK tour. Tonight, she plays the grand piano, aided by her box of musical technology, and whilst she doesn’t build the songs up like on the 2016 dates, the sounds are all her own, pre-programmed, to add layers and depth to her songs. The set consists of a lot of new material from her new album, ‘Endless Summer’ a lot of which have been inspired by recent motherhood. She has a wonderful charm, with songs that soothe, and what I’d suggest are a perfect Sunday-morning soundtrack. Again, the audience love her and she also comes back for an encore.

John Grant at Hull City Hall

John Grant at Hull City Hall

We then have the main event for this evening, and by the time John Grant takes to the stage, the venue is near full. This is an acoustic evening, with John supported by his usual partners, Chris Pemberton on keyboards and vocals and Petur Hallgrimsson on guitar. John opens by thanking various people who have made the Festival happen, once he has been given a list of names as “I have a terrible f***ing memory these days”, so much so he has lyrics in front of him for every song, which at the song’s end are tossed into the air. He does at one point kick these away as he says it wouldn’t look good if he slipped on the strewn pieces of paper.

John Grant at Hull City Hall

John Grant at Hull City HallJohn Grant at Hull City Hall

John Grant at Hull City Hall

John is in good form, and the set is drawn from all his career, which when stripped down to an acoustic level really expose his wonderful tone and vocals. He has a warmth that not many vocalists have, and after he’s wrapped you up you just know there is a barb waiting to poke you, with all songs drawing on his life battles.

However, he remains optimistic, and after ‘Marz’ “dedicated to Ava, from Seattle who wrote to me to ask about the meaning of the song, and I intend to write back to her”, the barb then comes in the shape of ‘I Hate This Town’ (clearly explaining at the start he doesn’t mean Hull) and finishing with a clap along, almost London pub piano feel. It is brilliant.

John Grant at Hull City Hall

John Grant at Hull City Hall

John Grant at Hull City HallJohn Grant at Hull City Hall

Solo performances of ‘Vietnam’ and ‘Where Dreams Go to Die’ are mesmeric, and before dare I say, crowd pleaser, ‘GMF’ during which the whole venue accompanies on the chorus. Some people may think GMF sums up John Grant and that this is his only ‘autobiographical’ song, but those who think this need to explore his back catalogue, as each song is a jewel, especially ‘Fireflies’ which he explains at length the background to the song, and after a couple of minutes says, “I may as well just play it”.

John Grant at Hull City Hall

John Grant at Hull City HallJohn Grant at Hull City Hall

“Hull, it has been an absolute pleasure and honour to be with you tonight…”  The set is closed with ‘Caramel’. It is a fitting end to a wonderful evening. There is no encore, he has already played half an hour over his scheduled time but he tells us he off to “shake his booty”.

John Grant at Hull City Hall

The festival ends today, and it has been wonderful. The people I spoke to tonight had all travelled, from London, Oxford and Nottingham, and indeed I’d made the 160 miles myself, and I’d be interested to know how many locals had attended, or if they’ve missed the best eclectic musical showcase on their own doorstep. There are many people involved in the festival but the artists John Grant has brought here in his role as curator have been stunning. For that we must thank him. The honour and pleasure was all ours.


John Grant Setlist
TC and Honeybear
Grey Tickles, Black Pressure
Marz
Jesus Hates Faggots
I Hate This Town
Vietnam
Where Dreams Go To Die
Global Warming
It Doesn’t Matter To Him
GMF
Glacier
Queen of Denmark
Fireflies
Caramel

One Response to “John Grant’s North Atlantic Flux: Sounds from Smoky Bay @ Hull City, 30th April 2017”

  1. Austen Redman Says:

    It was a great festival – made me suddenly feel twenty years younger. I was lucky enough to get front row seats for JG’s performance and want on to the party at Gate 5.
    The acts brought over were all fascinating; many defied simple categorisation. I shall certainly be following some of them up in future. John Grant himself seemed to be all over the city. He is incredibly charming and generous with his time – so much so that one almost felt greedy! Seeing him live on stage you experience his easy rapport with an audience and heartfelt performance. You also realise he is overcoming the emotional traumas recorded in the lyrics of “Vietnam” and “Queen of Denmark” to reach a happier, more confident place.

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