In the aftermath of glowing five star reviews from both music magazines and the highbrow newspapers, it was little surprise to see a queue stretching down Manchester‘s Oldham Street and snaking round into Church Street (in sub zero temperatures too!) for the opportunity to hear Bill Ryder-Jones give the genteel treatment to his sparkling new release, Iechyd Da. This was an early evening show and the excitement was palpable when Bill appeared ensconced in a woolly red hat (“A Christmas present” he assured us) and took to his stool to deliver his songs and bid to thaw the icy Manchester air.
This intimate Piccadilly Records show saw Bill opening with the rhythmic strum of I Hold Something In My Hand. The first thing of note is the sound, which is pitch perfect but the visuals could have been better since no-one beyond the front two rows could actually see Bill and were resorting to peering myopically through other spectator’s high hoisted phones. But, y’know, it’s all about the music! Next up was the sensational statement of intent that arrived three months ago in the form of This Can’t Go On, which tonight, stripped of the bombast, must been how Bill first chanced upon it in the dawn of its creation before he added his orchestral imaginations that make it such an urgent, arresting and startling track. Pausing to compliment the Manchester crowd on their fine taste in footwear Bill swung into a beautifully understated rendition of one of Iechyd Da‘s most joyous musical moments, Nothing to be Done which hears Bill accompanying his gentle and exquisite finger-picking with vocal riffing imitation of the album’s backing sounds. Introducing the almost bossa nova vibes of I Know That It’s Like This Baby, Ryder-Jones suggested we half ignore the ‘Baby‘ at the end of the title because it was a conditional stipulation attached to using the Gal Costa sample and it irked him for weeks. This version is sponge soft and the audience give it due reverence. In fact, it was lovely to be at a gig where there was no chatting throughout songs, the only noise being an occasional door opening onto the noisy Manchester streets, something Bill at one point mistook for the impending approach of something monstrous.
Having delivered four offerings from Iechyd Da he opened the floor up to requests the first being Satellites to which he responded with a terse “No”, followed by “Good call” to the By Morning I suggestion which he duly delivered in a faithful fashion, followed by acquiescence to a request for Seabirds which conjured up images of bruised Northern seaside towns with it’s gorgeous cadences.
Iechyd Da was mined further with a bouncy If Tomorrow Starts Without Me, another joyous moment sonically and yet the lyrics, like some of the lines in the swoon-some (yet absent today) Its Today Again -“There’s something great about life/but something’s not quite right” – have a bittersweet comfort embedded within.
Some of the subject matter of Christinha is a difficult listen but imbued with the honesty we have come to expect, and there is certainly a kitchen sink realism to Ryder-Jones’s lyrics that, to paraphrase The Smiths, “say something to me about my life”. It also has a couple more references Cymraeg via two song titles – Gorky’s Let’s get Together in Our Minds and the Super Furry Animals Ysbeidiau Heulog to accompany the Welsh nods in the album’s title Iechyd Da and the closing instrumental Nos Da.
Closing tonight’s captivating concert is the, in my humble opinion, best song on Iechyd Da, Thankfully for Anthony, which is a stirring string laden tug at the heartstrings and the protagonist’s (almost certainly Bill) choice of love despite the inherent dangers and fears in doing so, is a huge heart leap moment…as it is this evening.
Following this rapturously received gig, Bill appeared again to sign albums and was charm personified and seemingly in good spirits, which is a lovely thing to be able to write. And so he should be because Iechyd Da has been met with superlative reviews and on tonight’s showing, the promise of a full blown band interpreting these songs means you really should do anything you can to get a ticket to his March shows, a number of which are sold out already.
Best songwriter in the UK?
Prince Far Out.