Ed HarcourtCapstone Theatre 1/12/18
The Capstone Theatre is a perfect choice for ED HARCOURT’s return to Liverpool, particularly given the nature of his newest release, Beyond The End. Since his Mercury Award-nominated first steps into the national consciousness in 2001 with Here Be Monsters, he’s ploughed his own furrow, and been wholly true to himself as a creator, and he’s done it so very well. He is something of a treasure to those who appreciate the craft of song, and the joy of a well turned, uniquely observational and often introspective phrase. After several releases of his own, he turned to writing for others, including Sophie Ellis Bextor, Lana Del Ray, James Bay and Paloma Faith. He’s even found himself onstage with Patti Smith and Marianne Faithfull.
It was following months of work on Faith’s stunning 2018 Negative Capability album that he found himself once more alone. Alone with his piano; alone with his thoughts. A singer without a song. What to do next? He did what he’s always done. He sat down at the piano. The starting point for so many of his stories, the road to so many of the places he’s taken us. It was at this point, with pin-sharp timing, that the call came in from label Point Of Departure, and the invitation to release an instrumental album.
Beyond The End is that album. A collection of autumnal, atmospheric works, piano led, but with the added strings of Harcourt’s wife Gita. And her sisters too bring extra warm tones to add a beautiful sense of depth. At times haunting and dark, cinematic and picturesque, these are deeply complex yet also honest, bare and simple pieces.
On a quiet Sunday evening, as we escape the noise of our everyday, ultra-connected lives, we find ourselves living, however briefly, for some welcome moments away from the tyranny of our devices, and the incessant demands of December. We find much needed space and time. In Beyond The End, Harcourt has created the perfect soundtrack for the images and stories in our minds. By opening ourselves up to the long sustained chords, and the prepossessing melodies of his right hand, he is illuminating the moments of our deepest thoughts. And these melodies stick around, circling in our heads, given extra life by the projections at the rear of the stage. Pastoral scenes. Of clouds and rivers, of wolves and ravens, and forests at sunset. Images drifted slowly by on those long notes, aided by the warmth of the strings, drawn out of the piano as though by nature, rather than the hands of a gifted and skilled player.
Calming, minimal and wistful moments for meditative contemplation. The twin highlights, certainly for us, were to be found in the differing offers of For My Mother and For My Father, the former light and playful, looking towards jazz, while the latter displayed comfort and an almost protective strength. Each listen of Beyond The End feels like we’re being let into Harcourt’s world. It’s a deeply personal place he’s in with this, but at this performance we feel welcomed and invigorated by our participation. There is a lyrical quality to be found here, an evocative poeticism in the contraction of these natural feeling melodies. In Whiskey Held My Sleep To Ransom, we feel it. We feel the liquor looping and spinning around our minds, thoughts on the day revolving, as we ruminate on what happened, what went well, or what didn’t. Or was that just me?
The second set of the night sees Ed Harcourt back in the territory of singer-songwriter, delivering a host of favourite friends. Using guitars, loops, piano, more strings and layers of effects, he is able to breathe ever more life and edge into, among others, Those Crimson Tears, Hey Little Bruiser, God Protect Your Soul, Rain On The Pretty Ones, and of course, the magnificent Apple Of My Eye. A stunning performance from an accomplished musician, an unsung hero and one of our very own national treasures.