Friday, 21 January 2011

Words, promises: David McAlmont live

It’s like a strange wish-fulfilment dream. You have an email from a stranger saying: ‘Would you like to come and hear David McAlmont perform at my flat, for free?’ The address is a few hundred yards from my front door. We turn up on a Wednesday night for the musical ‘salon’ and are shown into a beautiful duplex apartment overlooking the Cornerhouse where there is wine and a keyboard and a gathering of about thirty similarly lucky attendees, including a few friendly faces.

I sit on a couch at the front of the room with my white wine while the host does a brief introduction, explaining that both David and Jane Siberry have performed here before. And suddenly, there is David, standing a metre away on the rug, charming, erudite, singing unamplified with that voice that is unique and rich and startling. (As Taylor Parkes famously said, ‘One day he’ll open his mouth and a cathedral will fall out.’)

Accompanied by wonderful keyboardist Guy Davies, they open with a slick, drawling bluesy number that showcases all the range, control, playfulness and sincerity of David’s vocals. Personal highlights include a heart-wrenching version of ‘You Do’, a song I’ve had real break-ups and break-downs to. It is flawless and tragic tonight. I try to remember exactly what David is singing each time I catch his eye, but I’m too wrapped up in the moment. I think I hear ‘words’ and ‘promises’. Or maybe it was ‘birds’? In any case I find myself chanting ‘words, promises’ like a little mantra, and am still singing ‘You Do’ when I go to bed the night after.

David also pays homage to his cherished Tiger Bay Diva in a hypnotic, bare-bones version of ‘Never Never Never’. Effortless and moving. He says wryly, ‘When I realised God had given me the timbre of voice that could make people cry, I knew I’d have a long career ahead of me’. Such is the power of sad songs.

After the performance, in something of a daze, I chat to David, reminding him of the time we briefly met, in 1996 at a Suede fanclub gig at the Hanover Grand. David and Bernard Butler had released their first album the year before and the Suede gig showcased the new line-up, with Neil Codling on keyboards, so it was something of a shock to see David at the bar. He admits, ‘I thought I was going to get lynched that night.’ I’ve been a fan of his music since that first McAlmont and Butler record. It’s only taken me sixteen years to get round to hearing him perform. I won’t be waiting that long again. A live concert is simply the best way to experience his talents, and you can do just that when David, Guy and a full band play The Lowry on the 17th of February. More dates are here, and if for some unearthly reason you can’t make it to a gig, there will be a live DVD and CD released to accompany the tour, on Valentine’s Day. That’s your gift sorted then.

Here are some of my favourite David songs to whet your appetite. See you at The Lowry.

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