JT & the Clouds plus Steph MacLeod, Newcastle Live Theatre
JT & the Clouds (with Steph MacLeod)
Live Theatre, Newcastle. Friday 18th February 2011
First up was a young folk singer from Edinburgh called Steph MacLeod. As you do; I’d researched him on the internet only to find that Steph is a recovering alcoholic and drug addict who has discovered ‘God’ and his song writing is cathartic and a major part of his recovery programme. It didn’t bode well for an evening of merriment.
Steph’s songs may not have been a laugh a minute; but they were incredibly touching and personal and each one was prefaced with a slightly self-depreciating story about how and why it was written. Once the audience had become comfortable with the dark humour that accompanied the sometimes harrowing tales; they chuckled along with the young Scotsman.
Looking like Van Morrison playing solo on one of his infamous grumpy nights; Steph Macleod took us on a tour of his life with tales of drugs withdrawal (Rattle), the raw and emotional Snake Eyes, a man running away from his troubles (the fabulous Grace) and not knowing where he was going or when to stop and one of the finest love songs I’ve heard in years – the very personal Alone in the Dark, which was written for his wife on their Second Wedding Anniversary.
Steph’s looks will never get him invited to join a boy band but the slight Celtic rasp to his voice alongside his incredible guitar playing and songwriting will genuinely mark him out as a star in the making.
When he came on stage Jeremy Lindsey (aka JT from the Clouds) admitted that Steph would be a hard act to follow; but follow it he had to and the Clouds started their set with a slow and jazzy Fine and Free from THE CITY’S HOT album and featured keyboardist Chris Neal on vocals. Everyone has different tastes but I think something more up-tempo would have been a better choice; but what do I know?
The next couple of songs were in a similar free-jazz vein from the back catalogue and the ‘great lost, secret and mysterious’ JT Nero EP. The only song that sounded interesting was Who Killed Sam Cooke? And it might have benefitted from JT singing it solo.
At this stage I was starting to feel a little anxious as I’d been really looking forward to the gig and it wasn’t going according to plan. I needn’t have worried as a moving Prairie Lullaby from DELILAH saved the day; with JT supplying ‘wind noises’ over Chris Neal’s vocals; then things began to pick up with I have heard words from CALEDONIA which sounded ten times better than anything that had gone before it, as did Low July that came soon afterwards.
Now visibly relaxed the lanky JT took his big boots off and his rather natty cardigan soon followed and the mood seemed to lighten at the same time.
The band still slipped in a couple more older songs with Scattered; (which JT reminded us was actually his song but made famous by the Be Good Tanyas) sounding like the worst excesses of Alt-Country in its shoe-gazing period.
Mercifully the introduction to Funeral and the song itself lightened the mood (honestly) and JT’s dancing during the guitar breaks put Joe Cocker to shame.
JT was now in his own little world and ‘dancing’ at every opportunity until a song that I missed the title too; but was about ‘Mrs. Abernathy’s bees’. A weird subject, I’ll admit but the song and complimentary piano and softly brushed drums was really good and well worth finding.
The night ended on a high with How it Runs and Grow Your Flowers from CALEDONIA (obviously); which helped send a lot of people scurrying to the merch stand as the band left the stage.
Whereas Steph MacLeod’s set had been very dark with glints of light, JT & the Clouds set that was split between light and shade, with the earlier songs from the back catalogue not really standing the test of time; while the songs from 2010’s CALEDONIA all sounded light and fresh by comparison.
Don’t get me wrong – I thoroughly enjoyed the whole night and the Jumping Hot Club have unearthed another gem with Steph MacLeod; but I did expect so much more from JT & The Clouds.