“Hey, I can do this after all,” says a grinning Damon Gough – more popularly known as Badly Drawn Boy – as he basks in the applause of an appreciative Union Chapel crowd towards the end of this feelgood-fuelled charity gig. “F*ck LA.” There’s a roar of laughter from the pews. The evening is a validation for Gough, who had a much-publicised meltdown at the Troubadour Club in Los Angeles last December, threatening to fight an unruly crowd and then publicly quitting the music business (“I’m never playing live again - this has been a disaster,” he said).
He’s been lured out of retirement to help launch an album for Manchester Aid To Kosovo, an organisation fostering links between the city and war-torn country since a group of refugees arrived shell-shocked in the North West a decade ago. “I’ve got nothing to promote at the moment, but I believe in this cause,” says Gough. Everyone present is glad he does: the gig will show that there’s still life left in one of the UK’s best-loved songwriters – as well as showcasing some of Manchester most promising new talent.
Among the highlights are the sixties-tinged surf rock of Jim Noir, and Josephine Oniyama’s powerful acoustic set, but among tonight’s nine acts, three really shine out. Gideon Conn is a pianist-guitarist-singer-songwriter-comedian with talent coming out of every pore. Bearing a striking resemblance to gawky teenager Will from The Inbetweeners, he can crack up a room with a sideways glance, and his sweet, storytelling pop somehow manages to be simultaneously hilarious and heartwarming, especially on single Londonderry.
The Travelling Band, meanwhile, are surely on the verge of big things. Winners of the hotly-contested Glastonbury New Talent competition back in 2007, the Mancunian five-piece have spend the subsequent years honing a startlingly tight live set. Benefitting from not one but two truly excellent frontmen – Jo Dudderidge and Adam Gorman – they produce a lush, Americana-tinged sound, drenched in harmony and more than a match for much-lauded outfits like Fleet Foxes and Midlake who do a broadly similar thing. Gorman leads them soulfully through Lanes Of Names – you can see why they’re named after a Creedence Clearwater Revival track – before the entire chapel is hushed for Sundial. “Back in the day, people didn’t have amplifiers, so we’re going to do this one properly acoustically,” says Dudderidge. Their four-part harmonies, accompanied by a simple acoustic guitar line, leave the congregation awed.
The night, however, belongs to Badly Drawn Boy. He’s only got 20 minutes on stage, so he jokingly churns out the first few bars off all his main hits in order to cram everything in, before starting properly with a delicate cover of Richie Havens’ I Can’t Make It Any More.
Is There Nothing We Could Do? and Journey From A To B come next, followed by a haunting acoustic version of the Stone Roses classic I Wanna Be Adored. Things really go into orbit, however, as The Travelling Band join Gough on stage for the final two numbers. “It’s a bit like being trapped in an episode of Scooby Doo,” jokes Gough as the hairy mob surround him. “Although we’ve got three Shaggies, one Fred and no Velma.” After a rattlingly good take of Once Around The Block, the evening concludes with a mass stage invasion and singalong to Pissing In The Wind. The crowd get up on their feet for endless choruses of “give me something/ I’ll take nothing,” an apt sentiment for the evening. Whatever his recent difficulties, it’s a triumphant return to the live arena for Gough, who hopefully will now rethink any thoughts of slippers or pensions for a good while yet.
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