Fleece and Firkin, Bristol
But for the vagaries of fortune and fashion, singer-songwriter Callier could be sitting at his work station as the computer programmer he retrained as, or, even worse, be stuck on the stage of a folk club with a finger in his ear. Instead, bizarrely, at 50-odd years of age he's the hippest new act going, with an album on Gilles Peterson's Talkin Loud label and dates on a debut British tour that sell out in hours.
Back in 1964 Callier made an album for the New York jazz label Prestige that was supervised by the folklorist Samuel Charters, and in which he covered fairly well-worn traditional material such as "Oh Dear, What Can the Matter Be". Like his British Caribbean equivalents, such as Cy Grant and Johnny Silvo, Callier was perhaps first and foremost a folkie, but over the past few years he's been claimed by the forces of Acid Jazz as one of their own, an interesting, soulful-sounding, stylistic oddity whom history overlooked. Maybe if on his debut he'd gone the whole hog and sung "Froggie Goes A Courting" (and he sometimes sounds as if he's about to), his hipness could never have survived intact.
Whatever, Callier's moment has come, and you can't begrudge it because he is, in fact, very good. The new album has some worryingly cheesy guitar textures and a rather lumpen fusion feel to the arrangements but the songs are, at their best, quite wonderfully affecting. And in performance Callier proves to be a real trouper. Paired with a British band including jazz-fusion trenchermen Jim Mullen on guitar and Bosco D'Oliviero on percussion, he leads from the front with his acoustic guitar, trilling away like, well, Richie Havens.
Clearly quite taken aback by the delirious response he evoked, he played two long sets where quiet, solo numbers (the folk roots) were interwoven with more up-tempo grooves in which the band fattened up the sound into a jazz-inflected R&B. His voice is deliciously warm and it's matched by a genuinely modest and touching stage presence.
If our applause (and there were three encores) was perhaps partly in recompense for the years of obscurity and the indignity of a forced retreat to the work-station, a lot of it was genuinely in tribute to Callier and his singular talent. Let's just hope the second coming is for keeps.
'Timepeace' by is out now on Talkin Loud. See Album Round-up, facing pageReuse content