Bill Ryder JonesHarvest Sun @ Grand Central Hall 13/12/18
You sometimes get the feeling you’re bothering BILL RYDER-JONES when listening to his music. It’s as though every play tugs on the emotive strings that delicately tie his compositions together. Forcing him to recall moments without compliance. Recount all when requested, rather than when ready. His yearning, sigh-like vocals wear the same strain whether it’s the first stream you’ve listened to or the fiftieth. The proximity between himself and the recorded product feels non-existent, as though you’re sat opposite in a confession box. Sadly, you don’t have the right thing to say. So you can only listen. It can seem as though he is laboured by his craft, and you, paying your two hours’ worth of wage to see him, only add to a cycle that doesn’t explicitly find balance between career and catharsis. The artist perhaps puts it best: “There’s a fortune to be had from telling people you’re sad.” It’s a strange guilt, but it’s one that doesn’t speak for all currently in Grand Central Hall. Bill is perhaps the most attenuative producer, writer, recorder and wanderer currently on Merseyside. He deserves this crowd, likely the biggest he’s had for a solo show.
The venue itself typifies the sonic grandiosity of his most recent album, Yawn: uncompromising, rough-edged, spacious, but never lonely. It’s music and theatre that rests easily in the pensive dark of deep winter, guided by unnatural, insincere lights – like flickers of thought in an anxious head.
Bill himself has had a drastic costume change from the narrator of his music when he eventually appears on stage. The clothes are the same, but he seems looser, buoyant, cheery, playful. Maybe the oversized goblet of wine, clutched in left hand, explains the non-existent nerves. “I’m getting notes of success, tragic beauty and ASDA,” he asserts, as he takes a sip from the glass before rumbling into There Are Worse Things I Could Do.
The set bridges each of his studio albums to date, excluding his first solo foray, the instrumental If…. Songs from A Bad Wind Blows In My Heart seem to grow in size when they’re played live. Maybe it’s the enhanced levels of bass, the cavernous roof, or rumbling fixtures losing their collection of dust, but each of these earlier songs have the weight to stand alongside the barrelling waves of distortion on Yawn. But it’s the moments of joyous crescendo that typify the quality of the set. It’s far removed from the slack, sleepy waters of West Kirby and the Dee. It’s as though he’s channelled a wild energy lurking below the sedate landscape. Here, Bill orchestrates more of barrelling tide of noise as he and Liam Power carry the heights of Mither to the precipice of the dome above.
Talkative renditions of Seabirds and Put It Down Before You Break It cause the now seemingly expected bi-partisan split within Bill’s crowd; those rustling, and those who eventually block out Bill altogether with a harmonious shush. It’s irritating, should it be surprising to fill a room of 1,000 people and observe fee-paying entitlement from a minority? Bill remains composed and plays along diligently. When playing solo, he knows those making noise are only ruining it for themselves. His part of the bargain is being fulfilled. And even above the chatter, it’s the songs being played solo where you can zero in on the emotive landscape being sketched out by vocals and guitar. It can be comfortably isolating, sedative almost, watching Bill play through songs such as Daniel. Perhaps this is where the guilt of viewership is most prevalent. It’s like his music creates an emotive time-share; you step inside it and assume ownership of the highs and lows until departure. It’s completely captivating, but it’s not without its challenges. All those in attendance, chatter or not, know there’s no shortage of sincerity in the honest anguish and joyful upheaval taking place before them.