Tom McRae, Concorde II, Brighton
Wednesday 05 March 2003
If you gave me a penny for every pain-racked, acoustic guitar-wielding singer-songwriter, I could have built my own recording empire. A good night out would probably cure most of them of their woes, though in the case of Tom McRae you get the feeling the wretchedness runs deeper. His self-titled debut album, released three years ago, was a work of stunning, sinister beauty; his latest CD, Just Like Blood (the title comes from the poem "I Say I Say I Say" by Simon Armitage), is an impassioned essay on love and solitude.
That's not to say McRae, 29, is without humour. "Welcome to laugh-along with Tom," he says dryly after a bleak rendition of "You Cut Her Hair" ("Time has coloured in the black and white of your sin"). Next is "Mermaid Blues", introduced by our black-clad host as "another happy song about drowning"; in fact it's an eerie elegy punctuated by grim silences and spookily discordant strings. When some wag yells: "Sing us a sad song", McRae replies with a smile, "Boy, have you ended up at the right gig".
You don't imagine that this Suffolk-born singer would be the life and soul of a party but, as the front runner in a new, oversubscribed generation of sad-eyed troubadours, he has advantages over his rivals.
Fear and dislocation may pervade most of McRae's songs but he avoids the tortured histrionics. His voice – by turns raspy and smooth – perfectly conveys the melancholy, sometimes spiteful, lyric sentiments. He has a chilling way with words, too. As he murmurs the refrain "If you let me I could love you to death" in "A Day Like Today" you can feel a collective shiver running down the spines of the crowd.
For all his subtlety and restraint, McRae can make noise. In "Karaoke Soul", about how appearances can be deceptive, he and his band – a curly-haired cellist, a keyboardist and a bassist who sidelines on the bongos – come very close to rocking.
"It's a miserable night outside," says McRae, "and I guess it's not that different inside." He's not wrong, though it's the best miserable night I've had in a while.
Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression
tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros
Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awardsTheatre
Grace DentChannel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Kylie Jenner challenge: Bizarre lip suction device inspired by Kardashian sister goes viral
- 2 Rarest Beanie Baby bought for just £10 at car boot sale could be sold for £62,500 on eBay
- 3 Katie Hopkins and The Sun editor are reported to police for incitement to racial hatred following migrant boat column
- 4 Bruce Forsyth backs assisted dying campaign: 'If I had Alzheimer's or dementia I would do something about it'
- 5 Giorgio Armani criticises the way some gay men dress saying 'a man has to be a man'
If I’m being racially abused I don’t need a stranger with a saviour complex to rescue me
The only black face in the Ukip manifesto is on the page about overseas aid
Ukip is the only main political party to not address LGBT rights in its manifesto
Food banks: One million Britons will soon be using them, according to Trussell Trust
Religion isn't growing, it is becoming vigorous in its demise, says philosopher AC Grayling
BBC election debate: The one photo that summed up the whole 90-minute leaders debate