Badly Drawn Boy live at Rescue Rooms, Nottingham, 16th July 2015

Setlist

1. The Shining
2. Everybody’s Stalking
3. Bewilder
4. Fall in a River
5. Camping Next to Water
6. Stone on the Water
7. Another Pearl
8. Body Rap
9. Once Around The Block
10. This Song
11. Bewilderbeast
12. Magic in the Air
13. Cause A Rockslide
14. Pissing in the Wind
15. Blistered Heart
16. Disillusion
17. Say It Again
18. Epitaph

Encore

19. A Minor Incident
20. I Love NYE / Something To Talk About
21. All Possibilities
22. I Saw You Walk Away
23. You Were Right
24. Silent Sigh

How Did We Get Here?

The first time I saw Badly Drawn Boy was during the infamous 2001 tour, which was to support his Mercury Prize-winning debut album The Hour of Bewilderbeast. I was only 15 at the time but I was completely dumbstruck by the completely unique style of concert I was seeing. His approach to dealing with his environment was unlike anything I’d ever seen before.

Kicking the show off with three songs by the Royton Bellringers was the perfect way to set the audience up for what they shouldn’t expect. It was, at this point, unlikely that the album was going to get a start-to-finish play through from an obliging band. Arguing with the crowd about the location of a photograph of his newborn child he had passed around the standing section was a highlight. Refusing to take his hat off despite the fact the room was swelteringly hot in the venue showed an air of defiance. This was an artist who played by his own rules.

Over the intervening years there has always been a portrayed feeling that the audience was either getting in the way or at the very least distracting Gough. Sometimes it’s treated with ardent contempt. But there’s also an overarching feeling that it’s all part of the act. On many occasions, he has happily laid into one of the band members who hasn’t learned his part correctly, or even crowd members for talking. If you’re not aware of what a Badly Drawn Boy gig is like I imagine it must be hard to understand and enjoy. Being on board the rollercoaster can be one of the most rewarding live experiences around.

In some ways it is sad that Gough has become predominantly linked with his admittedly excellent debut album. In the years that followed its release he has provided many reasons to show it wasn’t a slice of luck. The more mainstream “About A Boy” soundtrack is filled with some of his best-loved songs, and this was followed in the same vein with the fuller-sounding “Have You Fed The Fish?” However, in providing a more robust and polished sound he moved away from many of the nuances that drew his fanbase to his fragile debut. Whilst this new-found sound had brought him some mainstream success this seemed to disappear slowly and, despite still producing some excellent music (the gorgeously orchestrated soundtrack to TV movie “Is There Nothing We Could Do?” is well worth checking out), people stopped listening.

Once More Around The Block

This tour is the perfect way for Damon Gough to remind fans old and new why they fell in love with his music the first time around. Whilst retreading old ground can seem a little like a cash-in for some artists, it makes perfect sense to reignite interest in The Hour of Bewilderbeast.

When the newly-formed backing band too to the stage for the first time it took a matter of seconds for the audience to realise what was about to happen. As the original recorded intro to “The Shining” resonated around the room, it became quickly evident that the album would be performed in its entirety. The sound of Alfie’s French horn and cello [1] faded away and all that was left was Damon and his acoustic guitar looking slightly daunted to do something he must have done 1000s of times already. There is something about the way he does this that draws the audience in time and time again, willing him to get through whichever of his intricately crafted tunes he is performing at the time.

Launching into “Everybody’s Stalking” allowed the crowd to liven up a little with the band unleashed for the first time. The four highly talented (and highly bearded) band members are obviously a tight group of musicians and were working off each other all night, clearly enjoying themselves. Dare it be said – at times these songs actually sounded better than the record.

The small snippets of ideas that added so much character to the original album were all present too, much to the audience’s delight. The excellent run of songs that starts with “Camping Next To Water” and ends with “Once Around The Block” was punctuated by a few nervous eyes looking around the stage as Gough worked out whether he should say “Body Rap” or just allow the recording to speak for itself. He eventually went for the latter – probably a wise move.

It was in these moments that the charm of the night really revealed itself. The Nottingham gig was the first night of the tour and there was bound to be a few mistakes as the technicalities of performing an album from start to finish were ironed out. I doubt an artist called Perfectly Drawn Boy would have been half as popular anyway.

The standout moment of the night was a beautiful rendition of “Epitaph”. As Gough stood there on the stage alone with just his acoustic guitar, he quickly realised that he wasn’t 100% certain of the lyrics and even less so on the guitar parts. Eventually opting to perform an acapella version of the album closer with the printed words, the audience’s response in singing every word straight back to him was so overwhelming that he was brought to tears.

He came back on alone following a short break to perform a handful of songs from later albums, eventually with his band joining him. Bringing the night to a close was “Silent Sigh” from the “About A Boy” soundtrack. With smiles beaming across the room, from the stage to the back row, it was a perfect way to end an excellent night of live music and will no doubt have the entire audience digging out copies of his albums and rediscovering him once again.

Badly Drawn Boy is on tour for the next month. Dates can be found on his website.

[1] The Hour of Bewilderbeast had many personnel involved, including several members of fellow Twisted Nerve label-mates Alfie and also Doves, who were complete unknowns when this album was recorded. It is best to think of the first half of being Badly Drawn Boy backed by Alfie, whereas the second half is mainly performed with Doves.

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