“Does anyone want to hear another love song? Because I’ve got lots”, quips Ed Harcourt.
It’s these introspective romantic songs that he delivers so expressively, tonight sat at a grand piano, that have fans hanging on his every word, and the setting of the seated, old-fashioned wood-panelled folk music hub Cecil Sharp House – complete with floor-to ceiling Christmas tree - lends itself well to the crowd’s attentive, reverential response.
Tonight’s show is a fan’s dream: Harcourt, dapper in a black suit, is airing his new album Back Into The Woods, not due for release until February, in full, before playing a lengthy set of favourites and rarities, some never played live before, chosen by fans on Facebook.
Back Into the Woods was recorded in just six hours at Abbey Road Studios. Indeed Harcourt spends much time in studios – lately he’s been songwriting with every female pop and folk singer from Paloma Faith and Lisa Marie Presley to rising stars Jodie Marie and Kristina Train.
His sixth studio album is typically resplendent with thoughtful, lyrical piano-led songs. On its title track he winsomely recalls the theatrical baroque-piano pop of Rufus Wainwright, while Brothers and Sisters is a most accomplished composition, its melancholy augmented by deft chord progressions on the piano and rich, expressive vocals.
For the yearning love song "Murmur in My Heart" the multi-instrumentalist plays gently on distorted guitar, while on" Wandering Eye", the four Langley sisters (whose Gita is his wife) join him on stage to add glorious harmonies.
The lengthy second half is a more ramshackle affair. Playing songs live for the first time (including "Pristine Claw"), some are stopped and re-started, but Harcourt has charm and quick-witted self-deprecation in abundance for that to not spell disaster.
For a mainly one-man show crammed full of piano-led songs, percussion is at times lacking, but the upbeat guitar-strummed "Born in the Seventies", for which he implores the crowd to join in, provides a welcome change of pace and lightness of mood. "Haywired", a cheerful carpe diem number from his 2010 album Lustre, is brilliantly recreated live with the woozy backing of a crackling harp organ, while "Until Tomorrow Then" stands out with Harcourt’s classy ripples of piano and a vintage microphone, his voice soaring mellifluously.
As a final gift to his fans, Harcourt is joined by Romeo of the Magic Numbers on "This One’s For You", leaving smiles stretching across the room.