Saint Saviour and Bill Ryder Jones at Stockton’s Georgian Theatre on 4th December 2014

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There are times when you think you know what you’re likely to say about a gig before you’ve attended it. ‘In The Seams’ by Saint Saviour is my favourite album of the year and Stockton’s Georgian Theatre is one of my favourite North East venues so of course I was going to LOVE this gig.

My review was going to begin oddly. I was going to say how much I loved the music of Peter Gabriel. I was going to say that I’d long awaited the opportunity to see and hear live the ex Genesis frontman. He was playing the Arena in Newcastle on the same night and I was going to explain that it was somewhat incredible to me that I’d chosen instead to head to Stockton for a co-headline gig featuring Saint Saviour and Bill Ryder Jones, neither of whom I’d even heard of a couple of years ago if I’m honest. Then my review would include a description of the gig and would conclude, probably that I’d made the correct choice; that Bill was good and Becky (Saint Saviour) was sublime.

I didn’t get it wholly wrong, but the night didn’t pan out exactly as I’d expected.

Bill Ryder Jones’ set got off to a bit of a false start with a few minor technical hitches. A boisterous crowd paid little respect to his opening number ‘A Bad Wind Blows In My Heart’ and Bill displayed little of the character you kind of sensed lurked beneath the hoodie somewhere. It was almost as if Bill recognised that he was on Becky’s home turf and in front of her crowd. He may have been co-headliner but tonight; at least at the start of his set it seemed that he was very much aware that he was the support act.

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Bill played some languid and laid back songs which brought to mind Stephen Malkmus and/or Pavement. He briefly dispensed of his band and played two songs solo. These really showcased his guitar playing ability (he was The Coral’s original lead guitarist) and his voice. The crowd reaction to these two songs seemed to galvanise Bill and give him confidence. He exchanged banter with the crowd before beckoning the band back on stage and they finished of the set in fine style with ‘Wild Swans’ boasting a lengthy guitar outro that Neil Young would have been proud to have written and played. On balance then I think that Bill had exceeded my expectations.

For Saint Saviour to exceed my expectations would have been a very tall order indeed. Boasting a 9 strong backing ‘band’ comprising Bill Ryder Jones on guitar, bassist, drummer, backing vocalists and a string quartet (the Manchester Camerata) she opened with ‘I Remember’ from the new album and it was beautifully executed and well received.

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The set list weighed heavily in favour of the new album; eight of the nine songs aired during the mains set no less. In theory this should have pleased me but in reality it caused me some consternation. The songs on ‘In The Seams’ are mostly quiet, personal and introspective. They work very well indeed when listening alone, or with a loved one ideally in a dimly lit and warm room. These are songs to be contemplated and respected. When performed live a number of issues arise; will someone in the crowd shout or cough and spoil the mood? will the songs connect in the way that they should? do the songs lend themselves to ‘performance’ of a sort that is visually as well as aurally pleasing? Nobody coughed or shouted I’m pleased to report but I was anxious at times that they might and this meant I couldn’t enjoy the songs in a relaxed frame of mind. The songs did connect but not as they do (for me) on record. Becky was sat at her keyboard for most of the night and her singing was ‘technical’ rather than ‘emotional’ for the most part; impressive but not affecting. On the album the mood is cleverly lifted by the song ‘Devotion.’ The set would have benefitted from its inclusion at the half way point but as it was it was scheduled as the final encore and ultimately was not played. 

The song that did raise the temperature and got Becky herself more animated was ‘Reasons’ which gave her the chance to show off a more passionate, less controlled quality in her vocal. Bizarrely for such a lover of ‘In The Seams’ this song from an earlier album was the highlight of the set for me (with a lush arrangement of ‘Nobody Died’ a close second).

A two song encore was played and everyone went home happy. My expectations had perhaps been unreasonably great. It had been a good gig and some others I know would argue with me that it had been a great gig. On the journey home however, I couldn’t help wonder if Peter Gabriel might have been the wiser choice for me.

Reviewer and Photographer: Russell Poad

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