His name may be top of the bill, but one habit dies hard for The Beautiful South's former guitarist and tunesmith. David Rotheray continues to write songs for male and female voices, with one of each on hand tonight.
Devonian folkie Jim Causley's rich, sonorous vocal adds a welcome levity to the writer's more acerbic lines while Derbyshire singer/songwriter Bella Hardy has a more dulcet warble that suits the theme of Rotheray's 2010 album, The Life of Birds. Written while he was laid up with an ear infection, its content was nominally linked by references to winged creatures, though the true concept is life as seen from its creator's windows.
Despite coming out under his own name, the acoustic folk-pop album featured a bevy of younger vocalists with traditional influences, notably Eliza Carthy, Kathryn Williams and Alasdair Roberts, all represented tonight by Causley and Hardy, who also appear on record. Rotheray strums alongside a percussionist and keyboard player, leaving the pair to take centre stage with no little charm, especially the latter as she gracefully captures the regret over time's passing on "Taller Than Me".
Her singing partner succeeds on "Sweet Forgetfulness", a clear-eyed look at the plight of senior citizens, while the pair winningly display their empathy on the flirtatious cut and thrust of "The Puffin and the Squirrel". Rotheray deals with the perspectives of both people with Alzheimer's and their partners in a pair of songs, and in others shows he has retained his sympathy for the underdog, a stance that demands a balance of sensitivity and grit his singers occasionally lack.
Both are outshone by the evening's support act, Eleanor McEvoy, who for one number sings of suffocating a senile partner with undisguised relish. Rotheray may not return to the charts with such fare, but with well-chosen collaborators he can still bring everyday struggles to dramatic life.