I had seen M Ward play before. But never at the union Chapel. It was a first for him as well. He makes the most beautiful, timeless sound from his guitars and it all look so effortless. Like it has always been easy for him. But this particular skill is hard one and not as simple as he makes out. The union Chapel is packed and hushed. The atmosphere is warm and Sunday night. So many of my favourites are played, including the Sandman the brakeman and me from the monsters of folk album. He plays a Nick Drake song, Place to Be, and his immaculate cover of Let's Dance both songs performed because he is in England. There is no new material but when you have been as prolific as he has at turning out atmospheric beautiful music for more than a decade you don't need to have new material. A short but beautiful set.
Down at the Slaughtered Lamb he came on stage, or rather he walked into the middle of the room, looking like no one else. He was tired and emotional. I don't mean he was drunk. I mean, he was tired and emotional. There was an atmosphere of reverence in the room. Here were people who could not believe they had stumbled across the uncut singer of the month in person no more than 20 feet away at the furthest point. He played most of last of the country gentleman. Reviews have pitched his voice, delivery and subject matter somewhere between Ian Curtis and Johnny Cash. Neither of these reference points really does justice to the experience of seeing him play live. The guitar is used as an extension of the voice not as an accompaniment. Chords are not played so much as used to prop what emerges from somewhere beneath the long hair and beard and 10 years of living, loving and troubling his mind with altered states since the implosion of Lift to Experience, his former band. What emerges, is a spine tingling but also worryingly, essentially voyeuristic expedition into some particularly dark places and sad experiences. No one writes a song called Sweetheart I ain't your Christ because they feel light of heart and that they might make the Kiss 100 playlist. He seems as surprised as anyone else in the room at the fact that this music which appears to be on the point of collapse into nothing at several points actually works. And moves. This surprise extends to catching sight of the actual CD for the first time at the end of the night when my friend offers his pre-release copy to him for his signature. “This is the first one of these I've seen” is what he tells him. And this night and this music too is something the like of which I have not quite seen before.