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Ryan Hamilton - The Prohibition Bar, Gateshead 24.02.2017 // The Parish, Huddersfield 25.02.2017

A few days after Storm Doris decided to batter the UK with high winds, something far gentler blew into the North East from Texas.

The Prohibition Bar is a cool, kooky bar hidden under the railway arches on the south banks of the Tyne, and Friday night saw it as the second stop on the ‘Acoustic Evening With Ryan Hamilton’ that he’s put together to cover some intimate venues around the UK to help promote his newly released “The Devil’s In The Details” album.

As soon as I walked into the venue, I spotted Ryan quietly mingling with members of the audience and his in-laws (his wife Holly is from Newcastle). There’s a really chilled Friday night atmosphere in the air, which is helped that you can buy some Ryan Hamilton themed drinks that the bar has put together especially for tonight (there’s the Traitor, the M.E.D.I.C.I.N.E. and the See You Next Tuesday, if you’re that way inclined).

After a few hellos to people, we shuffled our way to some empty seats facing a small, velvet draped stage. After a short while, Ryan walked up onto the stage through the audience to welcome everyone to the show. Adjusting the mic stand to a height more befitting someone taller than a child, he introduced Chrissy Barnacle, the tour’s main support.

Chrissy hails from Glasgow, and her soft vocals feature on Ryan’s new album, so she’s a natural choice for the tour. Her music has a strong folk influence with her voice coming across as a beguiling mix of Bjork-meets-Joni-Mitchell. She accompanies herself on a nylon stringed acoustic guitar, her thumb and forefinger plucking at its strings, hushed vocals one minute then yelps the next. Between songs she almost comes across as quite nervous, telling her story of lost loves slipping through her fingers as she looks for some kind of meaning in her relationships. A natural story teller, Chrissy keeps everyone amused with a self-depreciating wit. At the end of her set you just want to feed her chocolate and give her a friendly hug. I made do though with buying her cd “To Speak” from the merch table.

After a short break, Ryan takes his position perched on a high stool onstage, an acoustic guitar in his lap and a bottle of wine to his left. Most of the audience are more familiar with him performing with his band, The Traitors, but for most of this tour he is backed by Carol Hodge on keyboards and backing vocals, a vision in a retro dress and full sleeve tattoos.

First up after a brief chat is new album opener ‘Smarter’, a song that fits well with tonight’s remit of stripped back storytelling. Ryan’s voice sounds gentle and soothing, much like it does on record, his soft Texas drawl drawing you into the heart of the song. Ryan and Carol work well together, their voices harmonising together with very little effort, which adds something special to sing along anthems for us underdogs like ‘Be Kind, Rewind’, which has most of the venue singing along to it whilst at the same time making you think “why wasn’t this song huge?”.

Between songs Ryan keeps everyone entertained with talk about his life and history. He’s a natural at keeping everyone transfixed with tales of his former brushes with fame with bands Smile Smile and People On Vacation, that was put together with Jaret Reddick from Bowling For Soup. He doesn’t shy away from talking about the darker side of the music industry either and what might

have been. Even though there’s a sense of sadness to his voice, he comes across as extremely happy to be where he is now.

Tonight feels more like a close gathering of friends rather than a gig, especially when his mother-in-law spontaneously facetime’s Ryan’s wife during the gig, something that amuses him and the audience greatly, and really adds to the intimate atmosphere of the gig. You can almost imagine this is what it is like back home in Texas for him, get some friends around, break out the guitar and sing along to some songs.

Highlights are many but include ‘We Never Should Have Moved To LA’, the previously mentioned ‘Be Kind, Rewind’, ‘Cheaters Never Change’ and current single ‘ Heavy Heart’. It’s not all gentle joking with Ryan either. ‘Freak Flag’ is prefaced with Ryan being open about his history with mental health and being the victim of bullying (he highlights the work done by the anti-bullying charity Ditch The Label and carries posters and flyers for them on the merch stand). The evening closes with an acoustic punk rock rip through ‘Ode To The Idiots’, the hidden track from his current album, as well as…………….well, let’s just say it’s a surprise for later in the tour, shall we?

Ryan happily chats with audience members afterwards, signing anything for them and happily posting for selfies, putting people at ease as he genuinely seems happy to talk to anyone and learning more about them. He’s one of the music industry’s nice guys, forgoing the traditional route that most musicians forge. With Ryan it’s about living in the now and experiencing as much as you can from life. And that’s a lesson we could all do with learning.

Review @ The Prohibition Bar, Gateshead 24.02.2017 - Scott Hamilton

Photos @ The Parish, Huddersfield 25.02.2017 - Neil Vary Gig Photography

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