Sunday night was the fourth of perhaps fifth time I have seen John Grant in concert.
I first came across him in a review of a Czars album in Uncut magazine from more years ago than I can now imagine. It was effusive enough to send me out to buy it and I have been a fan ever since. The album was Goodbye and I can remembering it coming like a shot out of the blue. I don’t know what type of un-pleasant loud beat music I was listening to at the time but this was something else. Songs of heartbreak and soft, delicate breakdown. After that there was a album of cover versions which was made up from off-cuts and b-sides and included a bit of Abba, Neil Sedaka and Song for the Siren.
And then nothing.
Over the next few years I would get out the albums and play them usually late on a Sunday afternoon when it was time for some blue notes in the air. I even managed to pick up a couple of the earlier Czars albums. Through them all there was an amazing voice and lingering melancholy.
So when news started to circulate that their singer, John Grant, had sorted himself out and was ready to make new music I was more than excited.
We missed him when he first played in Liverpool supporting Midlake and the following year he played we missed him again. But on that second occasion we told others to go and they came away converted.
The Queen of Denmark came out and it was brilliant and then we finally got to see him at Latitude Festival. He played on the main stage in the middle of the afternoon. There wasn’t a huge crowd but he was good playing the new songs.
Later that year we saw him again playing with just a piano to back him up in Halifax Minster – 900 years of history suited the songs. He played some new songs that had been written in Iceland and finished with Little Pink House.
Two years later there was a new album, Pale Green Ghosts, and we finally got to see him play in Liverpool at The East Village Arts Club. It was rammed to the ceiling and as the dance squelches of synths played out over the sweaty room it at times felt we were all in some HNG New York disco from a lost time in the mid 1970’s.
We saw him again in the Phil in Liverpool playing with a full orchestra. The songs were still magnificent but they were constrained by the need to keep within the discipline of playing with the orchestra.
There was none of that on Sunday night when he played the Phil again. He played fast and loose with the songs and if we had been close enough to see I am fairly sure he was smiling the whole way through. Sometimes the noise took us back to the HNG Disco we saw in The East Village Arts Club and other times he was just sat back with his piano taking us through the slow desolation of Queen of Denmark and then Glacier. Sometimes the dirty bass was so loud it felt as if the concrete under our seats was vibrating with the music.
Through it all there was his voice – rich and human – riding above the noise of the music. Ideally he would have played all the songs from all three of his albums and then thrown in some old Czars’ songs as well but there wasn’t time for that. if there was a disappointment it was that he didn’t play Where Dreams Go to Die. But I will be seeing him again and there will be time enough for that.