Chris Mills at Ace Space, Newbury on Friday, September 16
COMMUNITY arts venue Ace Space scored its first international coup on Friday, with a performance by American singer-songwriter Chris Mills - it was just a pity that the audience that turned up to see him and local alt-country band Case Hardin was rather select.
While Ace Space’s monthly Unplugged ‘open mike’ nights are regularly bursting at the rafters, music lovers seem rather more reluctant to take a punt on professional acts, even when the entrance fee is only a couple of pounds more.
Luckily Mills didn’t seem at all perturbed by the select turn-out - the previous night had seen him perform a semi-impromtu gig at a fan’s request in the Scottish town of Newton Stewart, where the venue had been a “information booth”, so after a nine-hour drive down to Newbury, he was entirely laid back about playing “a bingo hall in Newbury” (a phrase received with the humour it was intended).
Reminiscent of an American Badly Drawn Boy - he’s got the beard and the guitar, if not the woolly hat - Mills performs songs of love and longing with power and passion that should be filling venues far larger than Ace Space with ease. His music might be described as “urban country” - the lilt and themes of Nashville are there, but with an edgier tinge which reflects Mills’ roots in bluesy Chicago, and his current hometown of Brooklyn.
Particularly powerful was Napkin In A Wine Glass, a tale of domestic violence told from the point of view of the abuser, which brought a hush to the entire room, and contrasted with the unbearable romance of In The Time Of Cholera, a song about lost loves reunited in old age, inspired by Gabriel Garcia Márquez’s novel - described by Mills with a smile as “a really disgusting book about old people having sex”.
It may have bee a small crowd for the final night of his short UK tour, but Mills jetted back to the USA on Saturday having converted a good percentage of them into fans, clutching signed copies of his retrospective compilation CD Heavy Years 2000-2010 as they went away, mostly likely to play them many, many times.
- First published in Newbury Weekly News on Thursday, September 22, 2011