Live review: Robert Vincent
Date: Thursday 2nd March 2017
Venue: The Epstein Theatre, Liverpool
Support: Robbie Cavanagh, Peter Bruntnell
Reviewer: Derek King, Liverpool Acoustic
The Epstein Theatre in Liverpool’s Hannover Street was originally built in 1913 and so has that imposing feel of early 20th century splendour about it, yet still it retains the quirky community vibe you experience in venues all over Liverpool. When it was first opened, the theatre was known as Crane’s Music Hall, situated as it was above the famous Crane Brothers’ Music Store in Hanover Street, but many Liverpudlians will have known it as the Neptune Theatre in more recent times. In 1997 it was renamed the Epstein Theatre in honour of Beatles manager Brian Epstein, and his portrait still hangs in the bar, but sadly, with a multitude of cash flow problems it closed in 2005, only re-opening as recently as May 2012. Happily, the future of the Epstein Theatre seems more secure these days.
One can’t help thinking that Liverpool musician Robert Vincent, whose music is firmly in the Americana genre, that magical melding of country with blues, had perhaps chosen this venue for his new album launch to re-affirm his Scouse roots. OK, he may have been picked up by none other than Whisperin’ Bob Harris, been whisked off to Nashville to mix with the great and the good, play some shows and record some tunes, but Vincent remains a true son of Liverpool with his feet firmly on the ground.
Supporting Robert Vincent this evening were Manchester singer-songwriter Robbie Cavanagh, and from Devon, the enigmatic Peter Bruntnell. The stage at the Epstein, its back-line partially obscured by the emissions from a smoke machine, was illuminated by blue tinged spotlights. A near capacity audience waited excitedly, expectantly even, for something very special to happen, when a young man armed with just a white Stratocaster took centre stage and started to make music….
It would be impossible to dislike Robbie Cavanagh. When he talks to the audience he is immediately personable and likeable, though he doesn’t take himself too seriously and can even be quite self-effacing. Indeed, as he relates tales about other performances he has given, he gently mocks himself, picking over things that have gone slightly wrong and this all adds to his appeal. As a musician and performer, however, he exudes quiet self-assurance and confidence. When he sings he hits those damn high notes (and there are lots of them) perfectly every time, and he renders every tricky guitar lick with well-practiced precision, whether played on his white strat or on the trusty acoustic he switched to for much of his set.
“Thanks for all being here on time,” Cavanagh enthused a couple of songs in, clearly enjoying himself, “I know most of you haven’t come necessarily to see me and you’re waiting for Rob Vincent” (a big “Awww” from the centre stalls!), “so thanks for being seated nice and early and giving me a decent audience to play to.” Having won us over so effortlessly, Cavanagh continued to delight with a selection of gentle and often tender songs firmly in the Americana genre, some from his 2014 album The State of Maine and other more recent tracks due for release imminently.
Finishing his set with the memorable Godsend, which has now been released as a single (well worthy of purchase incidentally), Cavanagh left the audience very well entertained and ready for more.
Just as likeable a character, though with an added air of considered maturity, Peter Bruntnell (accompanied by the amazing Danny Williams on double bass) moved gently into another most engaging and enthralling set. Bruntnell has an impressive back catalogue to choose from, and his set gave glimpses of a lengthy musical career where he has very obviously been consistently at the top of his game.
His songs are thoughtful and reflective, and he can tell stories that transport the listener to other places and times: London Clay and Sea of Japan being two such fine examples. Bruntnell chatted amiably with the audience and at one point described how he spends rather too much of his life driving the four hours between his home in Devon and London, which gives him time to reflect on life’s journey and how it feels to grow older. His exquisitely performed song Long Way From Home, which appears on his 2016 album Nos Da Comrade, grew from the seeds planted on these long car journeys.
This was a stripped back acoustic performance from Bruntnell – he is one of those performers (like Robert Vincent) who can play with a full band, he can play with one or two musicians accompanying him, or just on his own and the songs will always work just as well. The richness of his vocal and the occasional input of harmonica were most excellent tonight, and the quite wonderful contribution of Danny Williams on double bass, sometimes plucked and sometimes bowed, lent the songs something extra special.
The phenomenon that is Robert Vincent often plays small venues as a solo performer, not so long ago he used to regularly play such venues as a duet with cellist Stephanie Kearley, he will often duet with double bassist Etienne Girard, or with his friend, singer-songwriter Anna Corcoran on keyboard. At larger gigs, Vincent will pitch up with various sizes of band and various personnel in tow, so it is always interesting to wonder what line up he will use this time!
That Robert Vincent always sounds so good with whomever he teams up is undoubtedly due in large part to his own qualities as a performer and perfectionist, together with the sheer class of the musicians he chooses to works with. But such a thing would not be possible without Vincent’s sublime and inspirational song writing. You can hear him perform almost any of his songs solo on acoustic guitar and feel certain that this is the perfect arrangement for the song, it is moving, it is uplifting and needs nothing more….. then you will see him play the same song with a full band arrangement and wonder how you could have been so wrong before….!
Tonight’s line up was impressive: Emily Jackson and Anna Corcoran on backing vocals, Michael Gay on electric guitar, Jim Kimberley on drums, Christian Madden on keyboard, Robbie Taylor on fiddle, mandolin, banjo, tambourine (and goodness knows what else!) Danny Williams on double bass and bass guitar, Chris Hillman on steel guitar, plus Vincent himself on acoustic guitar, harmonica and lead vocal. Such a complex line up would tax the skills of the most expert of sound engineers and it is probably no surprise that there were constant signals from the band to adjust this or that level throughout the evening, but this did not detract from an enjoyable evening and for the most part the sound was rich, full and quite superb.
Vincent’s set list tonight was cleverly constructed to satisfy the faithful, those who had perhaps discovered his music in the lead up to his Life in Easy Steps debut album, while simultaneously appealing to new fans. A lot of folk in the auditorium clearly knew many of the songs well, and there were lips moving in time with the lyrics everywhere one looked. But the arrangements of the songs were something special tonight. Those who knew the songs would have marvelled at the new twists, the odd unexpected vocal harmony, a banjo seamlessly joining in where a banjo had not previously appeared, a different and novel guitar lick from the wonderful Michael Gay, a Hammond organ chord cutting through for dramatic effect where one had not been heard before, while Jim Kimberley’s work on drums was something very different and special.
Mixed in amongst the familiar were, as you would expect, some of the tunes that feature on his new album I’ll Make the Most of My Sins. In one of his rejoinders Vincent asked, “Who’s already got the new album?”. A forest of hands shot up. “Hmm,” he remarked wryly, “probably too many of you. Would you all mind buying another copy tonight?” Vincent is of course something of a comedian with a very easy and dry wit. There were plenty of good natured heckles and lots of two-way banter in between each song, and replying to interruptions is something at which Vincent seems to be a master. He was quite clearly enjoying himself being in front of a home crowd tonight.
Time flies at a Robert Vincent gig and all too soon we were at the final song, the rabble rousing Riot’s Cry, which gave all members of the band ample opportunity to let loose. There was going to be an encore of course. Robert Vincent and the band would never get out alive if they didn’t give this crowd what they wanted! An impassioned version of Demons was the encore, a song filled with drama and tension and with heart-meltingly gorgeous vocal harmonies. It has become Vincent’s anthem and audiences clamour for it. Naturally there was a standing ovation at the song’s conclusion – it would have been incredibly churlish not to give these musicians an ovation, for we had been thoroughly and comprehensively entertained – and then we were on for a second encore. Vincent had saved this up for the end, he must have expected a second encore, “don’t sit down folks!” he ordered, and then the band launched into the title track of the new album, I’ll Make the Most of My Sins, which was yet another excellent performance on a night of excellent performances.
The crowd of course demanded further music, and they would have shouted for more all night, but Robert Vincent knows when to stop, and how to leave his audience happy and satisfied, but still wanting more.
In conclusion, congratulations to Robbie Cavanagh, to Peter Bruntnell, to Robert Vincent and the band, and to the Epstein Theatre for giving us such a memorable evening of top quality music.
Review © 2017 Derek King, Liverpool Acoustic
Website – robertvincentmusic.com
Facebook – facebook.com/RobertVincentUK
Twitter – twitter.com/RobVincentMusic
Live review: Robert Vincent – The Epstein 02/03/17
Originally from the London area, Derek has lived in Liverpool now for over 25 years. Over the years Derek has played in various bands before more recently finding his niche as a solo singer-songwriter and he has released two solo albums. A regular performer around Liverpool's acoustic music scene, Derek is also an enthusiastic promoter of local music and co-hosts regular events with Liverpool Acoustic.
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