To tell the truth, I wasn’t expecting much as I weaved through the misty “alps” from Aith on my way to the Chris Helme gig in Brae.
The prospect of seeing a singer famed for appearing on one decent album a long time ago, in a venue not exactly considered by many as ideal, didn’t thrill me. One of my travelling companions commented that the last time he saw Chris Helme perform it was at Murrayfied in front of 70,000 people. A has-been performer in a never-was venue. But at least it was live music … at the moment I’ll take whatever I can get.
On arrival I was pleasantly surprised to see a reasonably sized crowd inside the venue. I was even more pleasantly surprised by the wavering tones of Antonia Sidgwick performing on stage. A few more years and few more gigs will undoubtedly see her develop into an artist capable of performing on a much bigger stage. In a world where there are more singer-songwriters than there are cappuccinos sold in Starbucks, having a little something extra is vital. Antonia has confidence, great tunes and a sparkle that should see her do well.
So on to the main act. I’ve heard nothing of Helme since his days of fronting The Seahorses, the band John Squire threw together to show the world that there was life after the Stone Roses.
They produced one album, a handful of singles and then disbanded. John Squire went on to become a respected painter and artist and Chris Helme disappeared from the limelight.
So this gig was going to be a quick rip through some tracks I vaguely remember interspersed with the occasional solo effort that he would undoubtedly try to convince the crowd was better than the Seahorses stuff. Love is the Law was a quality tune, so the trip wouldn’t be a complete waste of time.
On steps Chris Helme to a warm response from the crowd. He is clearly shell-shocked, with a little culture shock thrown in for good measure. He kicks off with a slow track Hello, which is, well, amazing. His vocals soar with a quality akin to Jeff Buckley, a performer I would never normally liken anybody else to at the risk of committing muso-suicide.
Tune after tune is superb. The set list is comprised mostly of songs from his solo album and acoustic versions of songs from The Yards’ two albums, the band he now fronts. His banter is top notch too, more than adequately dealing with the occasional contributions from some audience members with charm and wit.
He even manages to provide an impromptu George Formby-style tune to appease a particularly vocal heckler. At one point during a technical problem with the PA, he ditches the microphone and plays a song from the floor, which results in a rapturous response from the crowd.
The highlight is his version of Lorali, a tale of young love and fathers with shotguns which he explains wasn’t unlike his own early encounters with the fairer sex.
By the time the set is in full swing and heading towards the predictable Seahorses’ hit-filled finale, I couldn’t care less if Love is the Law or Blinded by the Sun doesn’t get an airing. But of course, out they come. Love is the Law is probably the lowest ebb (albeit still very good) of the night. The stripped back version, of what was a Squire-penned tune, is in the set list to appease the retro-nostalgic crowds Helme normally finds himself playing to. Blinded by the Sun, however, is fantastic.
The final number, The Wedding Song, has everybody banging their tables in time and ends in a tumultuous endorsement from the crowd. Helme has made a lot of new friends in Brae.
I went in expecting nothing and came out delighted. Helme is undoubtedly one of the best talents to grace Shetland’s shores in a very long time. It’s a pity that the shadow of The Seahorses follows him around. He is more than good enough to eclipse his past musical guise. It was great to see live music of this calibre in Shetland and The Northern Lights didn’t disappoint as a venue either.
One final note, it was great to see local firm Allied Taxis stepping in and supporting live music in Shetland. Live music is a notoriously risky business and more often than not ends in the promoters making a loss. Support and sponsorship is appreciated and I know who I’ll be phoning the next time I find myself needing a late night run home.