Gateshead Central Bar
Friday 11th March 2011
Singer-songwriters Malcolm Holcombe and Richard Dawson are both best described as ‘acquired tastes’ and neither will ever trouble the ‘Best dressed men’ edition of GQ magazine; but it’s the music that matters and both men held the 70 or 80 fans in Gateshead’s Central Bar spellbound on a cold March evening.
Local lad Richard is candidly open about his battle with depression and uses music as his therapy. It’s always difficult and challenging to watch him perform but if you can see past his tortured expressions and a guitar held together with gaffer tape and good luck you will hear a succession of Avant-Garde songs that document his troubled life and that of his close family and friends.
In the introduction to Granddads’ Deathbed Hallucinations Richard described the song as not being very cheery even though it was littered with the old mans humorous observations.
Another noticeable thing about his performance is Richard’s ability to use words, melodies and even notes sparingly and only when absolutely necessary. This was especially evident on the beautifully brittle Black Dog in the Sky.
By comparison Malcolm Holcombe was a barrel of laughs! And there’s not many times in his life he’ll hear that sentence.
Running old man Steptoe a close race in the Sartorial Stakes Malcolm Holcombe made himself comfortable by draping his woolly hat and battered leather coat on a nearby chair before taking his seat in front of the microphone; opening the set with Going Home.
Unless you were a long time fan it was nearly impossible to make out what some songs actually were because of Malcolm’s growlingly intense delivery. At times it even looked as if he was having a fit as he forced the words out or attempted to get the perfect sound out of his well travelled Martin guitar.
For me the songs from Holcombe’s latest album TO DRINK THE RAIN were a lot warmer and accessible than on record; especially Mountains of Home which was simply outstanding, Becky’s Blessed and the powerful Comes the Blues.
Although not exactly ‘laugh out loud funny’ the drunkards lament One Leg at a Timeraised a few smiles around the room too.
As the evening wore on Malcolm included a few anecdotes in between songs but didn’t always finish the sentence or have a tag line to what could have been a funny story as his mind continually wandered.
My favourite tale was when he muttered something about crossing the Tyne Bridge and the twinkling lights and reflections on the River Tyne had made him think of his wife back in Carolina. Holcombe then performed a simply magnificent version of Your Eyes Will Shine from 2006’s NOT FORGOTTEN album.
Malcolm Holcombe and his eccentric dress sense, rich rough voice, fidgety stage presence and even the way he plays his guitar so aggressively on his lap stands out like a beacon in an industry full of shiny young things. He is an individual and a one-off and the World is a better place for having him in it.