Jonathan Wilson’s physical appearance—stringy, undernourished—reflects in many ways the rather delicate nature of his music. It comes as something of a surprise then, when during a song break he tells the audience in Kendal that he would like to “wring the neck” of some overzealous fans who had encroached his stage the previous night in Manchester in an attempt to sing along.
If this was designed as some kind of warning it was completely unnecessary and probably faintly ludicrous in the context of the ultra-reverential crowd that frequent this venue (as an aside I can barely wait for the Fat White Family gig here in November – a touchstone moment for all ‘culture clash’ enthusiasts) and stood out starkly from the whole low-key ambience of the evening.
With plenty of room to sit cross-legged and gaze wistfully stagewards—the Curse of Sunday night sets meant that this was a pitifully attended evening—much of the set brought to mind what it must have been like to attend a Laurel Canyon garden party thrown by David Crosby in 1969. Wilson’s lyrics drip of cod-hippydom yet his ear for melody are such that you are able to forgive him publicly airing his inner angst for the sake of a good tune.
And he has plenty. Drawing mainly form his most recent Rare Birds album and his impressive Gentle Spirit debut, Wilson displays the hallmark of a musician who has focused on the more palatable elements of his obvious West Coast influences and, in the main, keeps the songs relatively tight. The tracks from Gentle Spirit go down particularly well; ‘Can We Really Party Tonight’ and the excellent ‘Desert Raven’ are wonderfully structured folk-pop pieces that highlight Wilson at his best. A visit to the piano, however, for a couple of songs including the knuckle-chewingly dull ‘Me’ displayed an over-intensity that wasn’t especially invigorating. In fairness to Wilson, he looked back at the keyboard after this and asked the crowd “not to let me near that thing again, it’s like a fucking hurt locker” which showed an admirably self-deprecating side to his personality.
During the set Wilson cited John Martyn as a seminal figure in his musical development and the idea of unashamedly baring your soul is one which both artists embrace. However, Wilson doesn’t quite have Martyn’s range or emotional cutting edge. Curiously, as Wilson left the stage the PA guy chose to play Martyn’s ‘Solid Air’ over the system, as if you remind the outgoing crowd how this thing can really be done.