It’s been some time since Peter Bruntnell ventured north of the border with a band and news of this gig had veteran supporters salivating at the prospect. Bruntnell, hailed by The Guardian recently as an “alt country genius” in their cult heroes column is a superb performer solo, his songs, described in that same Guardian article as “classically constructed, melodically rich, lyrically ingenious and emotionally, intellectually affecting…,” delivered by his gentle voice and guitar playing always win over audiences. The prospect of a band show and in the sweaty and confined cellar of The 13th Note however was a dream come true for several of the audience as Bruntnell and his band line ups have been known to achieve heights that recall the best of the crunchier power pop rockers and even Neil Young’s psychedelic guitar work outs. Tonight he and his band did not disappoint. The four piece (Bruntnell on guitar, David Little, guitar, Peter Noone, bass and Mick Clews on drums) stormed through a set that showcased several songs from the excellent Nos Da Comrade and cherry picked several highlights from the back catalogue. The intimacy of the small venue (a shame really as Bruntnell truly deserves a larger audience) allowed the crowd an experience that was at times transcendental, a rock’n’roll nirvana.
With the guitars cranked up they launched into the chunky rhythm of Ghost Dog with Little already burning on his solos before a wall of sound was launched from the stage on the perfect power pop of Fishing The Floodplain, gears shifting smoothly leading up to a glorious chiming conclusion. London Clay, a song that was only briefly available via the ‘net continued in a similar vein, glorious harmonies and sun dappled pop with chiming guitars recalling the likes of The Lemonheads at their best but this was topped by the guitar refrains of Long Way Down From A Cloud which recalled The Byrds’ reappropriation of Bach. All glorious so far but the band were well able to swerve into darker territory with Where The Snakes Hang Out a powerful slow groove and the brooding epic of Yuri Gargarin a slow burning extravaganza of guitar workouts and pedal effects that was hypnotic in its burnished twists and turns, Bruntnells’ whispy vocals floating over the mesh of amplified strings and the propulsive rhythm section.
While well able to channel the guitar carnage of Neil Young and Crazy Horse Bruntnell is a master of melodic rock displayed tonight on the brisk delivery of City Star and on two songs which are perhaps his best known, songs which probably are responsible for his inclusion in that alt country label mentioned by that Guardian article. Here Come The Swells and By The Time My Head Gets To Phoenix are superior examples of UK Americana and tonight this was amplified by the inclusion of Iain Sloan (from support band The Wynntown Marshals) on pedal steel adding another dimension to the band. Hearing Sloan step into the shoes of Eric Heywood was a bonus, his pedal steel woven into the golden tapestry of both songs as Bruntnell took the opportunity to offer some pithy comments on Swells while Phoenix was just majestic, the guitars racked up for an astonishing finish. Coming to a conclusion there was a fine display of sonic wizardry (replacing the studio sitar effects) in the run up to Cold Water Swimmer which metamorphed into a shimmering white noise barrage before the punk infused thrash of Peak Operational Condition saw the band exit on a high.
The conditions were right, the band was right and the audience were rightly rewarded for their recognition of one of our “unknown heroes.” Do spread the word.
There was a fine bonus tonight in the shape of the supporting act, a two man version of The Wynntown Marshals featuring that man Iain Sloan on pedal steel and acoustic guitar with singer Keith Benzie, also on guitar. While the full Marshals line up is a clamorous vision of high end rock and country tonight the pair stripped back some of their songs, sieving the nuggets from their usual melodic mayhem, allowing Benzie full accord as an excellent singer and lyricist. Moby Doll carried a sense of ennui heightened by the pedal steel stylings while Low Country Comedown was a creamy country laden ballad and The Submariner was given a fine country lope. Curtain Call saw Sloan switch to acoustic guitar for this poignant tale and its deadly denouement, deliciously delivered by the pair. Their rendition of Red Clay Hill really allowed the lyrics to shine as it came across like an earthbound version of Jimmy Dale Gilmore’s Did you ever see Dallas from a DC-9 at night? while their closing song The End Of The Golden Age was just sublime, Benzie in fine vocal form with Sloan harmonising excellently on a song that is on a par with the Jayhawks.
More pictures from the show here