Stevie Ray Latham is ridiculously young, bears a passing resemblance to Babyshambles Pete and plays wounded, rambling folk songs like he has a cap and a dog at his feet. He takes to the Green Note stage without introduction and proceeds to essay half-a-dozen songs weighed down with a sense of place and a lack of structure that someone observes to me feels like a cross between Cohen and Dylan. I wouldn’t want to place the burden of such luminaries on anyone’s shoulders, least not Mr. Latham, for fear they would crush a spirit still finding its way under the spotlights, but there’s no doubt he has something.
House On The Corner has a lazy end-of Summer evening feel. Short Change Blues explodes in an expletive-laden burst that interrupts a stream-of-conscious lyric where stories rush by like images from a train. Each song is rough around the edges, often including purposefully dissonant and off-beat sections that you barely adjust to in time for a short but deliciously melodic resolution. This is the kitchen-sink drama end of the song-writing spectrum and it’s a hard style to win over audiences with, especially if you’re still working on your conversational style of inter-song banter. However, if there are other songs like the last one, Dionysus Blues, an ode to the ribald release of fermented grapes, then chipping away at the live circuit and the album he has in the can (produced by our headline act, no less), will ensure he’s on our radar again shortly.
My introduction to Peter Bruntnell was 2008s ‘Murder of Crows’, a lo-fi nugget of real beauty. Turns out he’s spent his life writing songs that shuffle past the edge of your consciousness waiting for you to reach out and grab them. When you do, and when you dig a small way beneath the surface, Bruntnell’s world opens up and swallows you. Occasionally, you come up for breath and realise just how dull and lifeless the majority of the other sounds around you are. It’s immersion by stealth, a strategy that no record label or agent would purposefully adopt and as a result finds the artist approaching 2015 with a catalogue of nine studio albums and unlooked for sobriquets like ‘cult’ and ‘respected by his peers’.
Stylistically he’s difficult to pin down. If I said he pops in and out of songwriter-folk-rock-pop houses, seemingly without noticing the joins, you’d be no nearer the truth but I’d have discharged my duty to narrow the focus. Bruntnell strikes me as an artist for whom pigeon-holing would be a curse anyway. He also appears a little too self-effacing to be up on stage night after night hoovering up positive reactions from the crowd, a position which, naturally, endears him to his fans even more. He’s apt to make matters worse by some brutally heart-on-sleeve lyrics; ‘She’s found someone to prefer’ and ‘Truth is like iodine / it helps you but it hurts / which makes you wonder / which is worse’. James Blunt this isn’t (and Amen to that).
All of which suggests he’s not weighed down with writer’s block or the ability to articulate himself, so his initial, faltering forays into banter with another packed out Green Note audience come as a surprise. He looks genuinely nervous as he comments on the venue’s speakeasy credentials but he’s not afraid to admit that he messes up second (and new) song Yuri Gagarin or The Last Cosmonaut -he’s not decided yet – and he warms to the task through acoustic versions of False Start and Ends Of The Earth. The evening gets looser when he’s joined by old mucker and one half of The Rails, James Walbourne. Walbourne’s irreverent (but fond) treatment of the man he’s there to support acts as a switch to Bruntnell’s own dry delivery and he favours us with a trawl through his past that includes the much called for Here Comes The Swell and By The Time My Head Gets To Phoenix. A marvellously light-touch version of Tim Hardin’s Reason To Believe is sandwiched between these.
Bruntnell’s writing adds weight to the maxim that you know it’s a good song if it sounds good stripped back to basics, and whilst as a duo they light up the stage and Walbourne adds some much needed oomph in the right places, Bruntnell’s sore yet soothing voice and wonderful way with a melody ensures that he and his songs remain the star. That said, the songs are undeniably enhanced by Walbourne’s accompaniment. He attacks his acoustic in much the same way he’s been wielding his electric for The Rails all year. His ability to do so is predicated on the quality of the material, which allows him to roam around Bruntnell’s melodies at will without detracting from them. The appropriately Beatlesesque Caroline from Ringo Woz Ere is a first encore, then Walbourne rejoins him for The Smith’s Reel Around The Fountain, a Mancunian goodbye to a satisfied North London crowd.
Review by: Paul Woodgate