It’s strange to start at the end, but at the close of Micah P. Hinson’s string swathed set at London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall, he stated that “music speaks for you when you can’t”. In the simplicity of such a statement there was a poignancy and personal tone that resonated quite chokingly with the audience as they listened to their performer’s honest analysis of his adolescent relationship with his father: how they didn’t get along, and how it took a song like John Denver’s “This Old Guitar” to remind Hinson of the lengthy arguments and silences that characterised those times and of how their relationship has strengthened since.
In a set that consisted of songs that spoke for Hinson; and of his songs that spoke for those present, both parties were connected by a shared understanding of an emotion we can’t quite express ourselves but that is graspable in another form, or another language. He spoke of his bafflement of audiences paying to see him perform in a country where theirs is not the common language, and likewise at the Southbank Centre’s QEH there was; accompanying Hinson; the string quartet who too spoke in a language unutterable to us but understandable nonetheless, and which beautifully, often subtly, other times strikingly laced the set with the emotions we searched for.
Opening with “The Possibilities” and moving onto “Take off That Dress For Me” Hinson recalled of the latter that it was a rather warped song and not quite deserving of the “romantic” label a radio interviewer had given it earlier in the week. Despite being advertised as Micah P. Hinson with the Pioneer Saboteurs the set presented an array of titles from a vast back catalogue, and while unfortunate that the grandeur of the latest LPs tracks was not showcased it was intriguing to hear stripped down versions of older songs. The macabre jangling interlude of “Diggin’ a Grave” for example, presented a sawing of bows which broke up the sombre mood of the set with a tempo that accelerated and halted throughout the evening.
Splicing his set of originals with a Civil War song, presumably for his mother as the lyrics suggested, a string serenade which he told us his wife, Ashley Byrn Gregory, walked down the aisle to, and two songs on which they duetted it was clear that there was a very prominent dose of personality encased in his songs and in their live retellings, and on which he was not shy to expound. Inviting his wife onstage to perform ‘a song you’ll know but won’t recognise’ they launched into a fast-paced, impassioned rendition of …and the Gospel of Progress’ “Beneath the Rose”, sadly this fell short as Gregory’s vocals were lost amidst Hinson’s deep timbre. Though thankfully this was later corrected in their coupling on traditional folk song “God is Good” which allowed for the female vocals to be picked out from their higher octave. Two microphones would have worked more successfully but the sentiment surely was the reason for this, not the musicianship.
A rare occasion to see Hinson and a string quartet complimenting one another it was also hard to decide upon who to watch so captivating were all five performers. The Texan singer-songwriter is both humble and humorous, awkward and animated and it is in his ability to let these characteristics shine through that we are able to better connect with his eerie, gothic folk. There is something of a Tom Waits effect to his ragged, rasping refrain, and sometimes a Bill Callahan circa Smog, in the dark, soothing timbre. Certainly a songwriter convincing of his wisdom, worldly doubts, pain and bitterness, sweetness and redemption. In singing a folk song he escorts us back with an authentic voice and a timeless tale, and just as easily convinces us of the timelessness of closer “Dyin’ Alone” which; bathed in strings could achingly lead you to the pearly gates.
A special evening in which two encores proved the worth of this voice.
Micah P Hinson stopped off in Clevedon (Folk Radio UK’s home town) during this tour to visit our good friend Jon over at: Songs from the Shed. This was the result:
Buy CD: And the Pioneer Saboteurs
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