Far Out headed on a nostalgia trip to match few others when we caught Badly Drawn Boy aka Damon Gough wrap up a very special tour in Manchester.
The grand surrounding’s of the city’s Bridgewater Hall concert venue played host to an all-seated affair that saw Gough treat fans to a full live rendition of his debut studio LP, The Hour of Bewilderbeast. Hailing from Bolton just down the road, there really is a feeling that this is a monumental homecoming for Gough – a musician who has fallen off the mainstream radar in recent years after being one of the most easily recognisable names around a decade ago.
But tonight most of the stalls at the Bridgewater are packed out as he takes to the stage – seemingly unfazed – with a band that have been specially put together for this tour. After shows that have been dubbed rip-roaring success in equally impressive spaces like Gateshead’s Sage and the Barbican Centre in London, there’s a bit of pressure on this one to come off, but all those in the venue seem to be willing Gough to succeed at every juncture
There’s no support act tonight and – in keeping with the high-brow productions and performances that often grace the Bridgewater – there will be a 20-minute interval sandwiched in between a Bewilderbeast set and a full-scale greatest hits session. The applause is rapturous from start to finish for a bumper album that felt like the soundtrack of the year for many at the turn of the millennium. Despite the huge, echoey nature of the venue, Gough’s natural warmness to a crowd that are lovingly receptive means it is smiles all round.
Backed up by a string trio, Gough’s often fragile sounding tones are hoisted right up into the Gods. Meanwhile, those who are lucky enough to find themselves on the front row are still made to feel like they are in an intimate space at beginning of his career, as Gough gleefully comes to shake hands with them and even embrace the odd one after almost every song.
Highlights include the poignancy and disorientation conjured by ‘This Song’ and an arms aloft moment that comes from the touching crescendo of ‘Say It Again’ and an acapella ‘Epitaph’, leaving the spotlight solely on Gough in front of an audience hanging on his every cry of “Don’t leave me”.
Mass fag break over and it’s time for the portion of the evening that grants Gough a bit more flexibility. The second set begins how the first finished, with Badly Drawn Boy filling the stage all on his own.
‘Below You Above Me’ is an acoustic masterclass. In between tracks there are a few signs that this is a Friday night crowd after all – particularly from one scouser who persistently wills Gough to return to Liverpool. However, the fact that such a vast audience falls quiet during the stripped-back numbers is testament to the grasp he can still seemingly gain from nowhere.
The band return and then comes anthem after anthem. ‘About a Boy’ has those down the front off their seats an dancing in the aisles – an act of descent that appears to be welcomed by Gough as a broad smile spreads across his face.
The visits to the front row, the handshakes, and the dedications continue to pour out from Gough, and it even looks as if he sheds a tear at one point as adulation oozes from every corner of the Bridgewater. After the all-out euphoria of ‘Silent Sigh’ it seems inevitable that Gough has called time, but the theatrical bow from him and his band is only the penultimate act of the night.
Gough ends with another raw and engaging rendition, this time of Springsteen’s ‘Thunder Road’, a song Gough describes as being one of the first to truly capture his imagination as a teenager. Tonight feels like he has come full-circle, with an army of loyal fans who have had his back at every hurdle. Heartwarming throughout.