Slaid Cleaves, The Greys (Brighton, UK) October 7th 2013
Like many in the UK I think I first heard Slaid Cleaves on the radio when Bob Harris played No Angel Knows from the album of the same name, back in 1999 (can it really be that long ago?) on his BBC show. Harris was obviously a fan as not only has he aired tracks from subsequent releases he’s also invited Cleaves on to the show to play live. In fact Cleaves was going to be recording another session for Harris a few days after this appearance so that is something to look forward to.
However, back to tonight…despite touring the UK regularly over the years, Cleaves had never played (my local) Brighton so it has always meant travelling further afield, usually to London, to see him. I don’t think that I have ever missed a tour so it was great to witness a sold out crowd ‘on my doorstep’. In fact, the room was so full that he and his accompanist, Chojo Jacques, had to literally climb over the audience to reach the corner stage!
Cleaves with his trusty guitar, and Jacques, who alternated between fiddle and mandolin, were promoting the new album STILL FIGHTING THE WAR but started off with a couple of familiar ‘drinking songs’ Horseshoe Lounge and Drinkin’ Days before showcasing newer material. This was prefaced by Cleaves saying ‘we’re going to sing a bunch of sad songs but they are going to make us happy!’ The late Don Walser who is remembered fondly in God’s Own Yodeler once advised Cleaves to give his audience something to laugh about – he’s heeded that advice as his live performances are sprinkled with humour and wit – Texas Love Song and Horses and Divorces being cases in point.
Cleaves excels at telling stories, often based on real life events and I’m not sure what it says about the Brighton audience but during the interval the most requested songs were for ones about workplace disasters – Lydia who loses both husband and son in a mining tragedy and Breakfast in Hell in which Sandy Gray the foreman of a logging crew loses his life. Quick As Dreams followed these two requests – another sad tale of death, a young jockey Sandy Graham on the racecourse. Such vivid imagery…
Other highlights included a request by Cleaves for the audience not to clap after Temporary; his obvious delight at being the first to record his breakthrough Broke Down before his co-writer Rod Picott did, so ‘I get all the glory’ and an unplugged version of Go For the Gold.
Although it was a long time coming, Cleaves’ Brighton debut was undoubtedly a success. A full room for a singer songwriter whose skill in leaving the audience wanting more was exemplified by the wonderfully warm reception and invites to ‘please come back again’. Jela Webb