Gig Review by Andrew Lindsay with Photography by John Bentley

Jonathan Wilson has not played here before but some of his pals have rightly endorsed the venue. Wilson is much smitten by the surrounding topography which he likens to his home in Topanga Canyon, Los Angeles, albeit without the bobcats, coyotes and mountain lions. There are plenty of sheep in Hebden Bridge as a consequence.

Jonathan Wilson, Hebden Bridge Trades Club

There is a palpable excitement at the prospect of Wilson performing a solo show in the intimate confines of the Trades Club. The ‘forty-something’ has performed largely the same set twice before in this area during the past fifteen months but always with a band and to much larger audiences. Here was an opportunity to hear the songs reinvented or stripped bare as in his ‘Cardinal’ sessions and perhaps to learn a thing or two about the man himself.

“It has been a dream of mine to have a solo show playing soft C and G chords”, he declares possibly tongue-in-cheek. Wilson does not appear to be entirely comfortable with a situation he’s not been in for the best part of a decade. His milieu is the recording studio, producing and arranging, and onstage as a sides man (a good chunk of the past two years have been spent as the guitarist with Roger Waters’ touring band).

The thing is that Wilson is not a natural front man with a rehearsed and oft-repeated stage patter – in contrast with occasional collaborator Graham Nash who appeared in nearby Halifax the following night. The relevance of his off-the-cuff semi-jokey stories (being dropped from the basketball team; watching a documentary about Daft Punk) were none too apparent.

Jonathan Wilson, Hebden Bridge Trades Club

Although in possession of a warm inviting voice Wilson’s vocals this evening were often indistinct as if he were reluctant to reveal too much about himself in such an intimate setting. Or perhaps the lyrics of ‘Living With Myself’, ‘Sunset Blvd’ and ‘Me’ are just overly introverted and the tunes unmemorable. “Get me away from that thing [piano]”, he declares “it is like the hurt locker; the theatre of pain”. Just drop these three from the set, Jonathan.

The performance works best where the melodies are strong (‘Loving You’, ‘There’s A Light’) or when his superlative guitar playing is to the fore: particularly the battered Gibson acoustic on ‘Gentle Spirit’ and the sublime electric riff that distinguishes ‘Desert Raven’. The latter deservedly garners the loudest applause of the evening.

After the jaunty ‘Trafalgar Square’ featuring a 1980s vintage DR-110 drum machine the shows closing numbers conjure up a folk club troubadour feel. ‘Over the Midnight’ is a particular highlight benefiting from an impassioned vocal. The show ends with ‘Moses Pain’ and muted applause. There is no encore.

Jonathan Wilson, Hebden Bridge Trades Club

Most of the songs tonight were drawn from Rare Birds (2018) and Gentle Spirit (2011) with just two from Fanfare (2013). No new songs were performed. Mid-set Wilson confides that his publishers keep trying to send him to song writing sessions. He doesn’t go. Quite right too. Sounds an awful idea compared to learning on the job but maybe that’s not the job Wilson currently wants to do.

Support was provided by Aisling Davis, Manchester based but raised locally in Sowerby Bridge. She has been operating under the moniker of Inland Taipan for the past three years.

Inland Taipan (Aisling Davis), Hebden Bridge Trades Club

An interesting creature is the Inland Taipan. An Australian desert snake it is shy and docile until provoked. One bite possesses enough lethality to kill at least 100 grown men. Similarly the first impression of the duo when taking the stage is of hippy folkies, unplugged and seated. That notion is quickly dispelled when swirling violin and aggressive electric guitar mesh to form a heavy industrial drone over which Aisling’s keening passionate vocals float. The songs are unstructured, the lyrics indiscernible; imagine the Gang of Four jamming with Kate Bush. Challenging and not for the faint of heart.

There wasn’t much connection made with the audience until Aisling talked rather touchingly about the merchandising stall consisting of her ‘Trilogy of Vice’ cassette tapes (even I can barely remember them but there they were) and her Braille pottery. She was deservedly doing a very brisk trade with the latter.

Jonathan Wilson, Hebden Bridge Trades Club

Set list: Loving You; Rare Birds; Rolling Universe; There’s A Light; Gentle Spirit; Living With Myself; Sunset Blvd; Me; Desert Raven; All The Way Down; Trafalgar Square; Ballad of the Pines; Over The Midnight; Moses Pain.

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