John Murry plus support Trev Gibb
Jumping Hot Club at Cluny 2, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK
24 February 2014
The last time John Murry visited the Jumpin’ Hot Club he and his band had were all laid low with the flu, a fact that Murry reminded us of at the start of his solo appearance tonight. Nevertheless the band soldiered on to deliver an understated and poignant performance of songs about addiction, loss and betrayal.
Tonight Murry was alone; simply a songwriter and his guitar for an ‘intimate’ evening among friends.
Trev Gibb has a growing reputation on the Tyneside music scene, and Cluny 2 was already filling rapidly when he, took to the stage. On another night his delicate and sometimes mournful melodies may have stolen the show from the headliner; as songs like; ‘Stay with You Tonight,’ (the wonderful) ‘Alvy Singer’; and the set closer ‘Can’t Stop Thinking of You,’ kept the audience in his grasp from start to finish.
John Murry’s debut solo album ‘The Graceless Age’ was originally released in 2012 and re-released in 2013; becoming a Top Ten album of the year for many a journalist and blogger but; despite the album’s popularity with the critics, the singer eventually told us that his pay checks have not quite matched the critical acclaim.
The capacity audience was already well-oiled when the wiry framed Murry sauntered onto the stage to healthy applause; and as he strummed his guitar he cheerily reminisced about previous visits to the City. During the first of which he told us he had been on heroin and on the last occasion, dying with flu; so he figured he owed Newcastle a ‘good show’.
He bravely decided to open the set with a song he alleged he had written the night before called ‘The Stars Become Bullet Holes’ and we lapped it up. Ten minutes into the gig and we had already been reassured that Murry still knows how to write perfectly crafted melancholia. This, along with a preview of a track written for a forthcoming EP with Chuck Prophet and an anonymous but typically dark number complete with Judas references, means that much is promised from future releases.
Between mocking his tour manager for turning up midway through the show and playing numbers from the Graceless age album, Murry also managed to fit in a number of interesting cover versions. He did this by asking the crowd to choose between a John Prine and a Bruce Springsteen song. The knowledgeable crowd quickly opted for Prine’s popular ‘Paradise’ – a choice Murry claimed to expect. A later choice was between Springsteen and Neil Young (this time there was more debate before the crowd settled for Young’s ‘Natural Beauty’) and towards the end of the set Murry decided to play Springsteen’s ‘Downbound Train’ anyway!
As good as the covers were Murry could have played the set without one and everyone would have been happy; but as he said, “When I play solo, I can play whatever the Hell I like!” Another cover; and possibly the highlight of the evening was probably a rendering of ‘Hang Me, Oh Hang Me.’ A somewhat timely choice given the track’s current renaissance, on the soundtrack of the latest Coen Brothers movie ‘Inside Llewellyn Davis’.
Of course, the most heart-rending moments came with renditions of his own songs; ‘Little Red Balloons’, was another highlight; and it was clear that the track is deeply personal to Murry, telling the tale of his heroin overdose and clinical death. Such is the reverence that his fans hold him in now; there were gasps around the room when he changed some key lyrics, hopefully merely to add to the drama. There was another funny story to accompany the track ‘No Te Da Ganas de Reir, Senor Malverde?’, which we were told he had to practice hard following a request earlier in the day; even though he had written it himself. For many in the audience it seemed that it was the tracks from ‘The Graceless Age’ that people had come to hear and Murry made the new fans night by playing what he called his ‘greatest hits’ including ‘California’, ‘Photograph’, ‘Southern Sky’ and ‘Things We Lost in the Fire’. This last song in particular, which was performed with the occasional foot stomp, seemed to reduce the audience to reverential silence.
The final song of the night is ‘Ballad the Pyjama Kid’, was a fitting end to the night as it was as raw and honest and from deep down in the singers heart; much like everything else that had preceded it. Sadly; there was no encore; but there didn’t appear much left in the tank as he left the stage to a standing ovation.
The charismatic storyteller had performed alone for nearly two hours and the throng that engulfed the merchandise stand, as Murry signed their goods, was testament to the fact that he had made people feel good with his bleak and sometimes harrowing words; and to paraphrase the man himself ‘isn’t it strange the way sad songs can make you feel so good?’