Live at Grand Theatre on Sunday, 12th June 2016
On the face of it Will Varley is simply another singer-songwriter with an acoustic guitar - if you were to strike him down right now, 50 more would appear to take his place before you could finish this sentence. Yet when he steps onstage to open up for The Proclaimers at Leeds Grand Theatre, it's clear why the Reid brothers offered him a support slot.
He talks gratefully about listening to them as he was growing up, and his songs contain the same balance of humour and pathos as the best of theirs. Varley is also touring this year with Billy Bragg, which comes as no surprise given that his delivery falls somewhere between Frank Turner and early David Gray. There are all the standard hallmarks of his predecessors - some Damien Rice here, a little James Taylor there, even a sprinkling of Johnny Cash (complete with honourable mention). But there's enough talent in his playing and poetry in his lyrics to make the most jaded of listeners stop and take notice - new song Outside Over There, inspired by 'smashing together' Maurice Sendak and The Brothers Grimm is a particular standout.
At times he sounds like a one man Mumford And Sons, which is great if you like them but will grate on you if you don't. Thankfully, Varley is self-aware enough to keep it light as well as earnest, and there's a healthy crop of sharp, witty chat and a clever song about his cat going viral. The bulk of his music, though, is melodic yet simplistic enough to do what only great art can - make you nostalgic for memories that aren't yours.
The Proclaimers take to the stage enthusiastically and are greeted in kind, this being the first time they've played Leeds for 'a number of years'. New album Let's Hear It For The Dogs contains some of their best work but is frustratingly underrepresented throughout the show.
You Built Me Up - a great opening track which would be a stellar way to kick things off - is eschewed in favour of Sky Takes The Soul from the middle of This Is The Story. It's an unexpected start, but the hand-clapping acts as a short cut to audience participation (which there isn't much more of until the crowd are directed to their feet in the encore, where they dutifully stay for the final twenty minutes).
The gig is a solid showcase of The Proclaimers formidable and ever-improving vocal and songwriting skills, strengthened with the backing of a no frills four-piece. The presentation might be a little too slick - they barrel through twenty-plus tunes quickly and seem to be gone in no time - but when newer songs like If I'm Still Around and the gorgeous Shadows Fall are as good as classics like Then I Met You and Make My Heart Fly, it would be churlish to complain.
Special mention must go to new album cut Then Again, possibly the only song about Operation Yewtree and definitely the one with the catchiest chorus. 'Speculation began to roam/Like MPs through a children's home' is a lyric that might be missed if you're not paying attention, but highlights the acerbic wit that mark The Proclaimers as enduring and meaningful to so many. 2017 will see the thirtieth anniversary of their debut record; if there is a tour to celebrate it, they won't be short of an audience.