Review by David Stone with Photography by Jessica Stone

A beautiful lil’ gathering took place at Birmingham’s Mama Roux’s on Tuesday as Paul Smith took to the stage for a super-intimate showcase of his solo material.

The Maxïmo Park frontman’s currently touring the UK with Liverpudlian folkster Kathryn Williams, introducing fans to tracks from his latest album Diagrams.

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Nestled away in Birmingham’s creative quarter, just off Digbeth High Street, Mama Roux’s is a wonderfully quaint place to hang out. From the entrance, it’s wooden floors stretch back to the stage at the back of the room, each guest surrounded by quirky, eye-catching decor – all of which can be overseen from a two-tiered balcony/seating area that overhangs the bar.

It’s a perfect environment for the evening’s entertainment, which kicked off with charming folk act Kathryn Williams. Arriving onstage with a smile and immediately capturing the room with a mix of effortless vocals and soulful storytelling, Williams delivered her set with a nervous energy that made her all the more endearing.

Mirrors and Little Black Numbers stood out, with looped vocals providing both lyrics and melody – the latter building to an epic finale, line after line, layer over layer until the room was filled with a tense, dramatic soundscape.

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Paul Smith’s arrival in his trademark short-sleeved button down and hat brought much of the same energy. Backed by The Intimations, this wasn’t exactly the same man you see fronting Maxïmo Park, darting all over the stage and throwing shapes – but beneath a calmer exterior, there’s no doubt it was a man excited to share his music with the world.

The main difference – we’re told early on – with Smith’s solo shows is that it allows him to indulge in explaining the process. Between songs, he shares some extended thoughts about what we’ve just heard; what we’re about to hear. In a different setting that might be seen as self-indulgent, but this is a gathering of musically bonded friends – for the night at least – and we’re happy to hear someone speak so passionately about his art.

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The music itself retains the soul of Maxïmo Park’s indie-rock tracks in a laid back package, driven by Smith’s uniquely identifiable vocals. Simple, catchy hooks like those found in Head For Figures and Silver Rabbit will whirl around your mind for days, others like Beauty Contest and Lake Burley Griffin take on thought-provoking new personas when given context directly from the author.

Smith went on to wrap up the evening with a solo encore, treating us to a few Maxïmo Park favourites before stepping into the room to meet with his Birmingham friends and bring the evening to an end.

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Setlist:
The Public Eye
North Atlantic Drift
The Crush And The Shatter
Around And Around
Lake Burley Griffin
I Drew You Sleeping
Our Lady Of Lourdes
Head For Figures
The Beauty Contest
People On Sunday
John
Syrian Plains
Break Me Down
Your Orbit
Silver Rabbit

While You’re In The Bath
Unfamiliar Places
By The Monument / Apply Some Pressure / By The Monument
The Night I Lost My Head

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