Live at The Leopard (Doncaster) on Sunday, 3rd June 2012
I like expanding my musical tastes, seeing a diverse range of gigs in random venues and this one was different in more ways than one! I ventured back to Doncaster (the place where I grew up), for one reason only... to see Tristan Mackay. The venue was The Leopard in Doncaster, which looked like on old man's drinking establishment turned 'Gentlemen's Club', but you know looks can be deceptive... so my friend and I cautiously stepped in, to what can only be likened to Jeremy Kyle's green room but with some great wallpaper!!
I got my beer and ventured up a sticky staircase into a dark space with Tardis like doors, where there was quite a crowd waiting for the first act of the night. Andrew James O'Brien introduces himself, a boy all the way from Canada. He offers a little banter with us, about the rather large helping of the Yorkshire heavyweight dumplings he had just consumed, before launching in to his first song.
Andrew had the biggest smile and looked comfortable on his own, as he belted out his folk-rock to an approving crowd. He treated us to one on his personal favourites, a Paul Simon classic, Diamonds in the Soles of her shoes, which showed his astounding vocal range. This took me back to some very special school days, spent listening to this song with my art teacher, who was a big fan. So it was fitting to hear this in Doncaster.
Then something blew and the sound was lost! Andrew stepped forward and before he could ask... intrigued, we're right there with him. We all took a few steps closer, to fill every available floor space. Without a second thought, he continued, with a beguiling and intimate performance which left a trace of the line in my head... "we are all just trying to be, a shade of the people in our dreams". It is always amazing to see a lone guy and guitar, capture the attention of a room and the applause received was an indication our appreciation.
An unexpected pleasure, and an accomplished musician, reaffirming that there is more to Canada than Bryan Adams and Maple Syrup!
In between sets, I grabbed Andrew for a little chat, still buzzing from the love he felt from the Doncaster people. Joining the tour in Stratford on the 29th of May, this was his 6th gig to date. He was asked along, after being spotted playing a music label conference in his native Canada. Reading between the lines, the first act is a tough place, often playing to an inattentive audience. However, feeling the atmosphere and approval tonight, he really enjoyed this set more than any other. In his own words, "one gig like this can trump all the gigs that have gone before". He enthused about how friendly people were here. We discussed the little power outage !! and how thrilled he was that everyone was right there with him. It did feel special, when he laid bare his emotive song and carried on.
Andrew is a talented singer/songwriter that put his heart and soul in to the tunes, I was glad to have had the opportunity to witness this at such close quarters. We talked and discovered some common ground, our affiliation with Essex, where he lived for a short time, studying for a theatre degree. But now lives back in Newfoundland, Canada where he packs out much larger venues. Over a little beer, he discussed the pride in his Irish roots and love of the dumplings!!
Then for the main event... my excitement was building as I returned to the room and Tristan Mackay was introduced to the stage, receiving a welcoming applause. Opening with a song of 'How I Came To Be' and the silence descended once more, followed up by the gentle and captivating, 'The Wine and I'.
Tristan continued to deliver his foot-tapping magic one after the other, each track a story, generating a warmth which wraps around you and penetrates your soul. Like most great songs, written with some pain or raw emotion behind them, which we mere mortals cannot articulate. I am so lost in the moment as he plays the stunning 'Last Love', a heartfelt tune that could conjure emotion in the coldest of hearts, (and I swear could have seen a tear upon his cheek) as he meant truly meant every word he sung.
The atmosphere was charged and I was totally transfixed by his guitar skills like no one I have ever seen!! A heckler shouts (between songs) 'Van Morrison ain't got a patch on you mate!!' ... and how right he was! Tristan's style has a delightful county/blues feel, evocative of the quality which would not be out of place on the best stages of Nashville and shows an evident Clapton influence.
As the evening draws to a close and just before the last song, an impromptu tray of shots for the band (Delivered by a mischievous Andrew (AJ)) which they all sunk. Tristan then gave us a little insight in to his entrance to the musical world, talking fondly of his busking days and quitting his job to live his dream. After this, an introduction and thanks to the unsung heroes, his band... he went on to deliver a fine and powerful performance of 'Don't Let Me In'.
I think we all fell a little bit on love tonight and as he exited the stage, the crowd gave a well-deserved and rapturous applause, shouting for more. In true style, Tristan came back out, treating us to a song which was inclusive of everyone in the room. We all felt like his friends as we joined in the sing-a-long... 'One more for the road before I go... cause you're the only friends I've ever known'. This was a great close, to a wonderful set, and an excellent reception for Tristan. I am so glad that everyone seemed to appreciate and enjoy this as much as me.
I know a little of Tristan's background and had the opportunity to be part of the transient community that witnessed him busking on the streets of Leeds and now I was here to feel a part of his success. I do not doubt that I will remember this in years to come, as the next venues he plays, WILL be much larger.
I took my opportunity to say a massive thank you to Tristan Mackay for the tickets and to see if he had time for few words with me... he willingly obliged.
Expanding a little we talked of the busking, how he loved playing to an ever-changing crowd and that pivotal moment that he was noticed. Spotted by a producer, on the streets of Leeds, he was invited in for a chat. With a prepared portfolio of songs, this moment he grasped and made sure he didn't lose out. He discussed the importance of substance and that without a plan he could have lost his one chance. This was his break! The quality of Tristan's song writing evident, he was also asked to lend a song to Skins, the cult teen drama.
All of this led to a London move to further his career. He enthuses of the vibrant music scene there and talks fondly of his time in Leeds. But he knows where he needs to be to make it! Since this move, the last few years have held some of Tristan's favourite moments, like his largest UK gig to date supporting Rumer to a packed out canary wharf with a 400+ strong crowd.
As much as was sorry to see Tristan leave the streets of Leeds, I am thrilled that real talent is getting spotted and making it, in a world where conformity and banality seems to make success. Tristan Mackay is anything but that. I am glad to say this is not the last Leeds has seen of him either, choosing a launch date at the beloved Brudenell Social Club, host to many a fine talent.
As we chatted further, what strikes me is this is a man who knows what he wants. He is confident in his abilities and this showed earlier by his command of the stage and the room. However, when it comes to talking of his achievement at being No. 1 in the Blues Chart (and quite rightly placed!), he seems humble, as the smile breaks across his face, it shows a little in disbelief, as if he is still taking it all in.
I then asked about his acoustic guitar; I was intrigued, as one of the first things I noticed when he took to the stage earlier, was a well-worn and well-loved guitar which showed the signs of his consistent strumming. I had to ask if it had a name, it doesn't, but this is the guitar which has travelled with him for six long years and has a history. In my head, I image it has been a faithful friend, present for the creation and penning of many a song heard tonight.
After this I did chat to the band and have to say, Mr Ben Ellis, you did your 4 strings justice my man and all compliments to the drummer, Alex, who knew exactly the how much power to deliver or hold back. Top Job!
So the night continued... AJ, Ben, My friend and I shared a few giggles, shots of Sambuca and spontaneous version of the Canadian national anthem from Andrew. Tristan joined us for a short time and after being referred to as 'Twat in a hat' by a surly bunch of locals (thanks Doncaster!!!), decided to call it a night. Who can blame him??!!
I left all the boys with warm and happy memories of what turned out to be genuinely one of my favourite gigs. What an amazing bunch of guys! Well I do hope that Andrew James O'Brien will grace our shores again and I will be on board! Dude gives the best hugs and I'll be up for collecting another one of those. As for Tristan Mackay, well he left me (almost) speechless! He is a true talent in every sense of the word and a first class performer. I'm definitely signed up for his next tour!!