- Lee Southall
- Mel Bowen
It’s always heartening to see the return of a much-loved son of the city to his old stomping ground. It’s an even sweeter experience when that person is HOWIE PAYNE, performing with a band again after a couple of solo tours, and armed with a brace of fine, sunblushed new material from his stunning new album Mountain.
The experience finds him well too. “Yeh, I’m really digging it. I haven’t played the songs with a band for a while, or some of them ever, so it’s very fresh and exciting.”
Following Howie Payne’s social media over recent years, and watching him go about putting the Mountain album together, we find a songwriter who’s not only happy to engage with his fans, but one who fully welcomes the experience and understands the power it places in the hands of artists. “When I put out Bright Light Ballads eight years ago, social media was still quite new… What I was attempting then was to do what is pretty normal now, to release music directly to your followers – not so much that you couldn’t do that before, but the concept of that is normalised now and the tools to do it are readily available to anyone. Think about that man, that’s phenomenal.”
Before he takes to the Buyers Club stage, the evening gets underway with MEL BOWEN’s own brand of North West soul songs, fresh from his new Every Day’s A Holiday EP. Bowen is a prolific writer and performer and a gifted guitarist, as comfortable with Bert Jansch-style picking as he is to play around with the time signatures. His is a characteristically strong EP, picking up on late 70s New York folk and soul flavours. The melody of Squaring The Circle, for instance, could easily be taken straight out of the Gil Scott-Heron canon. Given extra colour here on electric piano and the warmth of close harmony by Emily Valerio, it makes a great opener. Another highlight from the set, and the EP, It’s Not Easy adds to the New York vibes with its be-bopped bossanova grooves.
LEE SOUTHALL has talked in the past about making a journey between two worlds. And those two worlds couldn’t really be much more different. From life as a member of The Coral to the world he occupies now as a solo singer-songwriter, on the heels of the release of his first solo album Iron In The Fire, it’s certainly been a brave journey that has also seen him settle in Yorkshire and become a father. In Accordance is an all-out, eyes-closed, blues-folk slow groove, John Martyn-flavoured, deep and almost religious until the leap to some intricate double speed picking. Spread Your Wings may be a message of hope to his daughter, and is an absolute highlight of the set, with the classic songwriter imprint of Townes Van Zandt or Jimmy Webb. The reverent mood in the audience throughout his set is more than deserved, this is another son of the city making a most perfect return.
From the ringing out of the first chords of the stone cold, Dylanesque classic When The River Rolls Over You from The Stands era, the warmth of the crowd and the smiles on the faces of the devout and the devoted welcome Howie Payne home. And we can tell he loves being home, as he told us later, he misses the place. “Oh yes, especially my family and friends. I come back up all the time, and it’s really cool to see so many positive changes in the city, and especially to see how much cool new music there is, and how there’s a real community around that.”
Based in London with regular trips to Los Angeles, Payne has crafted together, with this new record, a set of songs that speak, both musically and lyrically, of a confident maturity and of the wisdom of his time. The knowledge of the road, the years journeyed to get him here, and his sheer gift for melody combine to create a piece of work which could well go down as a classic in the city’s musical history. “Well, I’m excited for everyone to hear it so I want to get it out as quick as possible. To me, the songs are more harmonic in a lot of ways, and my love of soul and psychedelia is maybe more upfront,” he says.
The set at Buyers Club features a handful of songs from Mountain, such as The Brightest Star, a sparkling country pop gem, fed over shuffling skiffle drums, insistent, immediate and absolutely infectious. Holding On is a sweet soul ballad which highlights Payne’s voice – scratched with a slight crackle – the melody both pleading and uplifting, and the chords, barely touched on his Gretsch guitar, lending their sparse support. The crowd absorbs these new moments, these fresh new journeys, welcoming into the fold them as new friends, forever to be held close.
Set amongst and around older Stands favourites from All Years Leaving in this set (strangely with nothing from their underrated second offering Horse Fabulous), the songs from Mountain highlight a real step forward for Payne’s writing. There’s added depth and clarity in the writing, and in the intervening years, his voice has picked up a richer, more soulful tone.
Howie Payne should be regarded as one of greater songwriters, up there with Head and Mavers, and that much is plain to see as the band strike up a glistening, shimmering versions of Here She Comes Again. An absolute classic, without doubt, delivered with the air of a man who knows it is. Following this with understated new song Some Believer, Sweet Dreamer shows that soul in his voice well, with all the earthy feeling of a mid-70s Lennon, or Jeff Buckley’s Sketches For My Sweetheart The Drunk album.
With final nod to All Years Leaving, performing the title track, Howie Payne leaves the Buyers Club stage to grateful cheers and with a gracious thank you to the crowd for their support. A truly effortless performance from one of our classic songwriters, in every true sense of the word.