Sunday, April 28, 2013

Lighting up the gloom - review of James Grant (Love and Money)

James Grant at The Forge, The Anvil, Basingstoke, on Friday, April 5

NEVER meet your teen crushes goes the rule - but luckily it all works out just fine when it turns out that they’ve still got a magnificent head of hair, a gorgeous Glaswegian accent, cheekbones that could cut diamonds, and a voice like velvet. Tennent’s Velvet Ale, maybe....? Nah - it would have to be a smooth malt whisky.

Back in the late ’80s, James Grant was the singer with Love and Money, a band of the Scottish blue-eyed soul genre (think Wet Wet Wet, Deacon Blue, Hue & Cry, Del Amitri - whose singer Justin Currie recently performed at Arlington Arts) who achieved reasonable success; mainly in their homeland, but also, unexpectedly, in the Upper V common room at St Gabriel’s School, Newbury. 

Deprived of much real male contact (well, some of us were, anyway), the band’s songs of love and loss moulded our expectations of adult life and relationships. They were probably a pretty good preparation for the world beyond the common room in fact, as Grant’s “miserablist” style of songwriting offers a realistically pessimistic view on life.

Nearly 25 years on, and Grant has continued writing and performing, both with Love and Money, who reformed in 2011, and as a solo act. While he has released five solo albums, he is not reluctant to play the songs from the past that are best known, and so we had the pleasure of hearing the gorgeous Strange Kind Of Love, from the 1988 album of the same name. Performed by Grant and his guitar, it was maybe even more lovely without the slightly bombastic (over?) production of the original version which set it firmly in an era long gone.

Grant doesn’t do upbeat, either musically or lyrically, and the old themes of love and loss are still foremost; alongside death, most poignantly on My Father’s Coat from his 2009 solo album Strange Flowers -  but the tunes are beautiful, the lyrics touching, and the alternately romantic and melancholy vibes showcase his liquid voice to perfection. An intimate gig in The Anvil’s tiny Forge studio also allowed Grant to display his dark humour as he told tongue-in-cheek tales of his young manhood as a semi-rockstar (he once smashed a typewriter) and the death of his family budgie.

I left the gig vowing to finally replace my cassette tape copy of Strange Kind Of Love, and delighted that at least one of my major teenage crushes had revealed itself to be well founded - and like the best whiskies, ageing very well indeed.

  • First published in the Newbury Weekly News on Thursday, April 11, 2013

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