I knew this gig would be a sedate affair after I overheard three people ordering Merlot at the bar when I arrived at the Caves. Merlot! At a gig? I ask you. And, for context, it’s important to say that I had had a long day, and that was before I walked through the tail end of a hurricane to get to the gig. Maybe a little part of me was wishing myself back home in my PJs watching W1A.
Something magical happens when John Smith starts playing the guitar. It’s sort of … mesmerising, because he is utterly brilliant. And then something even more magical happens when he opens his mouth and starts to sing. John Smith singing sounds like burnished conkers and crisp autumn leaves. It sounds like an extremely powerful engine, but also like a delicate musical instrument. John Smith’s voice (stay with me, people) sounds like the sensation of sinking into a massive bubble bath on a cold night while someone brings you a Flake, like in an early 90s Cadbury advert. I know you think I’ve lost it now, and I don’t care. He is that good.
The audience is rapt. I’ve only seen this a handful of times in my life, but he casts a kind of spell when he starts to sing. The crowd is so hushed that when a couple of girls next to me start talking, a man turns around and ‘shushes’ them. Shushing! At a gig? I ask you. But it feels right, because the intensity of Smith’s performance deserves respect. He plays some stuff solo, sometimes accompanied by a second guitarist and a double bassist (also great), and closes the show sitting alone on stage, playing with the guitar in his lap.
In between songs he’s endearingly humble, thanking the crowd for coming out on a Monday night, and catching himself ‘sounding like Alan Partridge’ when he introduces a song ‘written on the A14’. It’s ten years since Smith released his first album and I have no idea why he’s not more well-known; his name, perhaps?
I wanted to review this gig without mentioning John Martyn, but I can’t; Smith toured with him and I was reminded of Martyn at times. Then his skilful, mournful slide guitar made me think of Ry Cooder. I kept trying to pinpoint who he sounded like: Sam Beam of Iron & Wine? Nick Cave? Nope. Then it occurred to me: John Smith sounds exactly like John Smith, and that, my friends, is more than enough. Go see.
For more on John Smith and the remainder of his tour click here.