Gig Review: @JohnWGrant at @CambridgeCornEx , 3rd Feb 2016 #MusicIsEverything

I love it when I’m able to arrive early at concert venues. I like looking at the empty space and having a vision of it filled with sound and body heat. Last night was one of those times, being one of the first through the doors and enjoying everyone else ambling in at an incredibly leisurely pace.

The stage was set – keyboards galore on stage right, bass set up at the rear next to the beautiful sparkly drum kit, guitar pedals stage left and a sole microphone stand in the centre. A little shiver of anticipation went down my spine – not for the first time that day, either.

Looking back to the entrance and upwards to the ceiling, I noted the beauty of the inner building structure, almost like an upturned ship, and imagined the swelling of voices and beautiful music hitting the highest rafters and travelling around the entire room.

I felt so much more than ready for what I had expected for a long time to be an unforgettable and emotional show.

When the lights dimmed and a bespectacled, distinctively dressed young lady called Sóley walked onto the stage with just a guitar and a keyboard for company, I don’t think anyone knew what to expect. She was tentative, awkward almost, in her self-introduction, and so sweetly spoken that I could almost taste sugar on my own tongue.

She shyly began to sing, and it was like the twinkling of stars on a perfectly clear night. She immediately captured the audience, and not one person was making a sound – I don’t think anyone even breathed for the entirety of that first tune.


Sóley seemed eminently surprised by this show of politeness towards her and interest in her, and seemed lost for words at the appreciative applause she received. On she went, singing song after beautiful song, programming sounds on stage, wowing us with her almost whispered honeycomb vocals and amusing us with her self-deprecating humour.

This was the perfect start to the evening, and I sincerely hope I hear more of her in times to come.

Then it was time. A moment I had been waiting for, it seemed, since my time in this life began. I listen to his CDs at home and in the car, and feel indescribable emotions when I hear his lyrics and music, but now, finally, I was to see the man himself in the flesh, in this very room. It was to be HIS voice journeying upwards to that stunning ceiling and bouncing back down to pleasure my ears.

Out came the band, shortly afterwards followed by John Grant, who wandered over to the microphone and pressed gently into one of his newest songs, “Geraldine”, displaying regret alongside clarity within his impeccable, note perfect voice.


A side to side shift of the hips and a wave at the crowd later, we were treated to “Down Here” and “Grey Tickles” from the new album, delivered affectionately and sensitively to an awe-inspired crowd who, if anything like me, felt like they were being wrapped in cotton wool and set free with knowledge at the same time.

“Marz” and “It Doesn’t Matter to Him” are two of my favourite songs by John Grant, and to hear them live merely cemented that fact. Majestic vocals of a giant filling the room with lyrics so tender, gently humorous, sometimes so scathing and honest and always with a raw, ruined passion and always full of heart. This is a closeness not often experienced at a gig – it felt like everyone in that room was grasping it with both hands and holding on forever.


If you hadn’t heard John Grant’s music before and this had been your first time, you’d be forgiven for being slightly surprised at the change in pace which was to happen next.

Bathed in lights of red, blue and white, an anxious pulse began, like a slow rave. It was one notch away from being deafening, and the all-encompassing dreamlike state button had been firmly pressed. From “Pale Green Ghosts” to “Slug Snacks” to “Guess How I Know”, I felt like I was having an out of body experience, and it was unexpectedly glorious.


From the Dr Who like sounds, the body shaking and the possibly ironic, but hopefully not, sexy dancing, the big smiles and the rosy cheeks… to songs where between each note sung and played you could hear pins drop. The resplendent “Glacier”, the heartbreakingly truthful “Queen of Denmark” and “GMF” are, for me, songs that transcend all, and touch me to the very deepest parts of my being. I lost it at this point. I was in the music, and didn’t care what else happened – if the world around me ended there and then, I doubt I would have noticed, so immersed I was in this splendid music.

The set ended with “Disappointing”, which for me gets better every time I hear it. I did find myself wondering if Tracey Thorn would surprise us with her presence, but it wasn’t to be – not that it mattered, it’s an absolute delight of a song.

We knew we would get more – as is standard, the lights were still off and the roadies were doing their best to fake tidying up – and more is what we got! More pounding, reverberating in the throat and chest funky bass in “Voodoo Doll”, more acerbic words in “You and Him” (the ultimate example of a subtle hate song), more alternative hopefulness in “No More Tangles” and more of an insight into John Grant’s difficult roots in “Drug or Caramel”.


I cannot end my review without talking about John Grant’s obvious and genuine gratitude towards his audience. At the end, after the whole band took their much deserved bow, he spotted someone sitting in the balcony, stretched out his arms and shrugged as if to say “I can’t understand why these people are here for me”. That was a beautiful thing indeed – he’s a man with no apparent ego, and who clearly feels absolute joy at performing for people who are at one with his music. That in itself charms people and makes them want for more.

On leaving the venue, I couldn’t help but glance around the concert hall and smile at the part it had to play in the night’s entertainment – the perfect acoustics with the performer to match, neither of which ask for anything in return, but instead hopes for its audience to visit again one day. And visit we will, John Grant – that is a promise.


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