Live at Holmfirth Picturedrome on Thursday, 26th April 2012
What is it about Bonnie Prince Billy and Scotland? Not content with adopting a moniker almost the same as The Young Pretender so famously defeated at the battle of Culloden, William Oldham has now linked up with Glasgow psychedelic mediaeval folk band Trembling Bells in a collaborative venture not quite as daring as a Jacobite uprising.
The twitchy honest-as-the-day-is-long Kentuckian has provided most of the vocals in tandem with Lavinia Blackwall on the Scottish band's fourth album The Marble Downs. The brains behind the four-piece is Leeds-born Alex Neilson, a proud Yorkshireman who met Oldham eight years ago while working on Alasdair Roberts' album No Earthly Me.
As a singing drummer Neilson is a rare breed and now that Phil Collins has retired he could be one of a kind but tonight, and for the whole of the album, he takes a back seat and allows the bitter-sweet symphony of Oldham and Blackwall to engage the wonderful Holmfirth Picturedrome, a venue more used to hosting tribute bands and prehistoric rockers than experimental folk.
One thing's for sure, the one-time theatre probably wouldn't have been half as full if BPB hadn't been awkwardly strutting and pirouetting about the stage like one of Dionysus' satyrs , but he's never been a man or beast to do things by halves.
The some-time actor walks on with what looks like printed sheets of the lyrics from the new album but doesn't need them as he confidently delivers the record in full, bar Ferrari in a Demolition Derby which is ditched for the night. The Prince even cheekily knocks out a quick rendition of Last of the Summer Wine which gets the inevitable groan.
The night starts poignantly with the spiritual Lord Bless All, written by Bee Gee Robin Gibb, who has defied the odds and recovered from his cancer-induced coma. It's a bit of epic and an odd way to begin the evening and is only politely received by the seated and standing. Oldham, sporting baseball cap and tight-fitting T-shirt, brings some of his acting skills to Yorkshire as he frequently ends up balancing on one leg during tracks - all very Ian Anderson without the flute. Next up is 'I Can Tell You're Leaving' which constantly changes tempo thanks to Neilson's never-ending search for interesting rhythms.
The sixties garage of Ain't Nothing Wrong is one of the best songs of the night if a little drawn out, while soprano Blackwall knocks out a lovely version of Dorothy Parker's poem Excursion into Assonance. Her voice fits the track perfectly but sometimes the classically trained singer is a bit too shrill as on I Made a Date With an Open Vein which despite its suicidal title is pretty dull.
BPB slips on a shawl as the set changes tack with his own song Goat and Ram which goes down well before My Husband Has No Courage in Him, a witty, traditional song about erectile dysfunction (or the dangers of Special Brew), bleeds immediately into the creepily incestuous Riding from Oldham's first album which he recorded as the Palace Brothers nearly 20 years ago.
A disappointing cover of Scott Walker's countryish Duchess is followed by a great version of Love is a Velvet Noose which despite its miserable title is actually a rollicking track with real oomph. We get a deep bow from Billy as the band skulks off stage but he returns with the shawl on his head (a tribute to Nora Batty?) for a cover of Merle Haggard's Tonight The Bottle Let me Down which brings more country to downtown Holmfirth.
The night ends with one of Trembling Bells' track - Love Made an Outlaw of My Heart which doffs its flat cap to rock-a-billy and space rock. It strikes the right note with an audience probably less familiar with the Bells than with the 'Bonnie' lad from across the pond.
A decent night, nothing to get the pulses racing but seeing BPB for the first time was a theatrical treat. Long may the Prince reign.