Apologies, but it is back into Wiltshire I dive this month, although only because a show cropped up that was too good to miss. Any chance to see Buswell play has to be grabbed, for many reasons, and not just musical ones either as I shall endeavour to explain.
But firstly, the other acts need due consideration. Opener Matt Adey had managed to draw a pretty partisan crowd for his performance, not bad considering he had never played the venue before and has been a West London resident for the best part of 20 years. But, having grown up in a village down the road, he brought out a lot of nostalgic folk curious to see what the intervening period had done to his music. The answer is a bit of a trite statement, but it had matured nicely, developing complex layers and flavours, much like a fine wine. Emotive and heartfelt lyrics were the foundations of his mellow acoustica, and once he had overcome initial nerves at playing this prodigal homecoming show the power of his delivery enabled them to shine through, lifting a set that was dynamic and fluid.
Last Box Of Sparklers is touring Swedish musician Erik Nyberg, playing his last UK show of a two week tour. A formerly familiar face on the circuit thanks to his stint in The Flaming Moes he is an artist who has managed to become the physical embodiment of his music – laid back, hypnotic and serene, even down to removal of his shoes to properly relax into his set. His electric dream pop for this tour was stripped down to acoustic guitar and piano for practical considerations (not having an electric guitar mainly) but the songs were more than strong enough to still work in this format, and the beautiful and spellbinding nature of the music soon silenced the boisterous Saturday night crowd into a rapt appreciation of the artistry on show. Right up until the final track, a hilarious version of rubbish Hungarian rapper Speak’s track Stop The War, with a brilliantly dry, BBC English delivery from headliner Shaun Buswell guesting the rap parts to great comic effect, at which point the audience erupted into a combination of hysterics and joining in. A superb if unexpected full stop to the set.
The reason I was so excited to attend this show was headliner Buswell. The musical vehicle for the songs of Shaun Buswell, I have seen the collective range from Shaun playing solo all the way through to a full band with 30 piece symphony Orchestra. For Shaun is a man who doesn’t like to keep things simple and rarely likes to play two shows the same. In fact, he seems hell bent on making everything as hard as possible, following a devotion to challenging himself as much as he can. So having already formed an orchestra by meeting strangers on the London Underground over the course of 12 months, played on the London Eye, reformed the orchestra from more strangers met during a 2 week Edinburgh Fringe stint and touring a spoken word show based on the experiences, he decided to re-score all his songs for all possible instruments (without being able to read music) so that whoever he picked up on this ostensibly solo trek round the country with Last Box Of Sparklers (who had produced his last two records) could join him on stage to play. Oh, and the audience would choose the set by calling out numbers relating to the songs in a game of set-list bingo. Meaning, as Shaun pointed out, that each gig was going to be a totally unique combination of musicians, instruments and songs.
And the results, as unlikely as this should have been, were stunning. Helped that this was a home town show so the audience were mostly friendly and there was a core of familiar musicians (although some were brand new and several had apparently come out of “retirement” for this event so were not necessarily gig-fit) it all came together in a musical perfect storm. But whilst the sweeping strings, elegant clarinet and piano and tight rhythm section were a fabulous framework, it was Shaun and his songs that were the real star of the show. Highly underrated as both a singer and a songwriter (I often feel the challenges he puts himself through detract from this), the songs have a grace and atmosphere all of their own, delicious melodies sparkling over considered and meaningful lyrics, which, when added to an impressive array of sarcastic heckle come-backs, had the large crowd eating out of his hand and lapping up every twist and turn of the show.
I was left with the realisation that Buswell doesn’t just play gigs, he puts on events, something bigger, better and infinitely more impressive than your average workaday covers act rumbling through another mediocre version of Sex On Fire. This was what live music is all about, that exciting feeling of being part of something special, something different and something meaningful, a moving of the musical goalposts into areas yet uncharted. Sure, the “challenges” detract from the musical genius that is the root of the projects, but they also add veracity to them, giving them an additional layer of artistic merit that you otherwise rarely see. It is a fine line to walk though, this creative virtue could easily slip into circus stunt territory, but it does appear that Buswell has perfect balance.