Having loved John Smith's recent “Headlong” album (Read our review here) like no other this year, it was a pleasure to catch him live – after an 11 year gap! - in the elegant surroundings of the Music Room at Liverpool Philharmonic.
The Devon-born songwriter and guitarist first developed his musical career while studying in the city and over the course of a mesmerising set told the sold-out audience how he was working several jobs a day to make ends meet, including working behind the bar and also being a car park attendant at the very same venue he was now gracing!
The beautiful acoustics of the room were tailor made for John Smith's entrancing voice and guitar work, and a rapt, attentive audience were able to hang on to every word and note – with the lengthy set mainly featuring songs from “Headlong”, but with also dips into the back catalogue.
Highlights were a plenty and saw Smith mainly on acoustic guitar, but occasionally picking up his Fender Telecaster for some sparkling electric playing, including some most appealing slide work. The songs were delivered interspersed with some amusing anecdotes to add to the enjoyment.
Personal favourites included the title track of “Headlong”; the co-write with Lisa Hannigan, the brilliant “Coming Home” - that he informed us he heard played on the radio at 4 am in the morning whilst making a curry in a jet-lagged state! Another lovely performance was of the delicate “Undone” - co-written with Sam Genders.
Possibly best of all was the stunning “Save My Life” - the final cut on “Headlong”, with his voice and guitar ringing out with a clarity not always there in the live arena. The audience were also treated to a couple of dips into his “Great Lakes” album – with the title track, and “Salty And Sweet”; and for a closer, one of his oldest songs, the gorgeous “Winter”.
Opening up this terrific evening was the New-York based, and California-born singer/songwriter Will Stratton. He has a beautiful album out at the moment on Bella Union entitled “Rosewood Almanac”. Stratton's breathy vocals and complex guitar patterns were very well received and he is a name to look out for - having not previously made many UK visits.
John Smith - https://www.facebook.com/acousticsmith/
Will Stratton - https://www.facebook.com/willstrattonmusic/
Review - Grahame Rhodes