Ben Folds and the Royal Northern Sinfonia at Sage, Gateshead on 11th July 2014

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Many times over the years I have been recommended Ben Folds based on my love of Tom Waits, John Martyn, Tom Lehrer, Rufus Wainwright etc… But he’s never appealed to me. I never heard that song from him that has won me over enough to give the rest of his material the time it deserves.

John Martyn has May You Never, Tom Waits hooked me with Swordfishtrombones, Tom Lehrer was The Masochists Tango. For every band or artist we love there is that first song that has won us over, this is why we have given time to the rest of their catalogue (sometimes endured the rest of their catalogue). I have never had that with Ben Folds.

I spent the first few songs of the gig (or maybe concert) looking for what everyone else heard in him (and there were a lot of people there who could hear it). Then I spent some time working out why I didn’t like him; I decided his melodies were too simple, his voice lacked enough character to compensate for this and his lyrics lacked a poetic aesthetic, (which I live for).

During the interval Russell (our editor turned photographer) and myself discussed why Ben had yet to reach me. Besides the above conclusions I did confess to enjoying his banter and loving the ideas behind his songs (such as defending Jesus against the hardcore bible-bashers in Jesusland). At this point I’ll mention that his piano concerto was an interesting piece that had some wonderful moments including the various bass motifs, muted piano string parts and beautiful orchestral arrangements throughout.

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But then it happened.

In the second half he did an improvised piece with the orchestra. A riff was offered from the RNS 1st violin, which Ben then developed into parts for the rest of the orchestra with the lyrics of Sunny Afternoon (Ray Davis) improvised with a new melody by Ben. As a songwriter and teacher of songwriting, I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the creative process with an orchestra unfolding live before me, then hearing the parts fall into place; it was magical.

From this point I was captivated and will be raiding the Spotify archives to endure the rest of his catalogue. I would see him again with a regular band but I think this was something very special, which will never be repeated.

Reviewer: Chris Whiting

Photographer: Russell Poad

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