Tuesday, 29 October 2019

GIG REVIEW: Robert Vincent - Sunflower Lounge, Birmingham. Monday 28th October 2019

The irony of discussing streamed music funding models in the vicinity of a small but dedicated band of gig goers each paying £14 to attend on a Monday night in a tiny city centre cellar bar quickly resonated around all concerned. This signalled the ultimate bond of three artists on stage and in front of them, the very reason they exist. A poignant moment indeed, yet one that struck a chord and if anything helped bring the purpose of live music together. From the moment Matt Owens commenced his opening set at 8:15 to Robert Vincent not creating a shock two hours later by ditching 'Demons' as the closer, this ad-hoc combo sprang up as an unpolished gem, not exactly purring like a stage managed operation, but prevalent in an unconscious gel that only intuitive musicians can adopt. 

Essentially this was a Robert Vincent gig, but certainly one with a difference. Over the last six years, I have seen him live on several occasions and in different formats. These included full band shows at Ramblin' Roots, Cambridge Folk Festival and opening for the Turnpike Troubadours, solo shows like the first time at Palmfest in Brighton back in 2013 and most recently in a songwriting exchange evening with Dean Owens in Birmingham. The common theme has been that none of these was actually a headline Robert Vincent show where he was charged with owning the evening. Tonight was all different and in a format away from convention. 

This current run of dates around the country is a precursor to a new album that is due out most likely in the new year. For theses shows, he has hooked up with a fellow singer-songwriter in Matt Owens (most significantly known as a member of popular indie folk group Noah and the Whale). The deal is Owens opens the show with a drummer by the name of Jimmy Daniels and they in turn back Vincent on keys and drums respectively. You have to be creative and resourceful on the road. Interestingly, there is not a lead electric guitar in sight (though Owens reaches for the bass on a couple of occasions). The result is a concoction that works in the most instinctive form. Far from slick in places, but who craves that from live music, where instinct and reaction can rule. 

Four paragraphs in and a first mention of Birmingham's Sunflower Lounge. Not the most popular venue in the city for music of a country, roots or Americana persuasion. One defined by its cosy nature and ability to make a crowd of around thirty look positively welcoming. However, this evening it housed a gig that immediately raced up the year's live music appreciation charts.

This was the second time seeing Matt Owens open a show in the Midlands area in 2019. Back in May he supported Thea Gilmore in Bromsgrove, and like this evening showed his versatility by appearing in the headliner's band. The set he played here was a lot more vibrant, mainly due to the addition of Jimmy Daniels on drums. It came across better, even though the songs and stories were largely similar. 

Having previously seen Robert Vincent play sole acoustic and full on electric, it was interesting to see how he came across in the former mode, but with added drums and keys. Overall, it was pretty good, even on songs such as 'So in Love' and 'November', which were designed for the rock treatment. 

Maybe each time I'd seen him play live before there was an added pressure of performing in a multi-act environment. This time a natural persona shone brightly, which when matched with an incisive wit and acute songwriting skills, constituted an impressive stage performance. Obviously, the latter is what will ultimately drive his career, and this side proved in stellar health as several songs from the upcoming album were previewed.

The main new song was the one just released as a single and available for just a meagre 79p we were reminded. 'This Town' may well appear different on record to the version heard this evening, but it sounded excellent c/o Matt and Jimmy doing their piece. The same has to be said about the others previewed, and on first listen those who enjoyed the last award winning Robert Vincent album are going to be treated very kindly in the new year.

Just prior to 'Demons' finishing the show, yes no change there or likely to be, the loyal crowd tested their own vocals to 'I'll Make the Most of My Sins'. A small but beautifully sounding choral ensemble. At this point, what admittedly had been viewed as a slightly low key evening in advance had evolved into something that can be fondly recalled as the moment where Robert Vincent shook off a tag of not always owning the party. Of course, many fans will have observed this before, but headline Midlands gigs haven't been too frequent in the past, and I was unable to attend his Cuban Embassy show last year. 

Anyway, previous neglects are now cast aside and the scene is set for a very prosperous 2020 for Robert Vincent. I'll be there somewhere down the line. 

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