Live at Joseph's Well on Sunday, 22nd April 2001
A major coup for the promoters at Joseph's Well: the increasingly popular Naked Bar Guitar acoustic nights on a Sunday managed to get a former Seahorse and an ex-Carpet on the bill for probably the biggest NBG night yet. With two big names like this, more will surely follow, and hopefully Leeds will have one of the biggest acoustic nights in the North.
Local lad Ramon was up first. He got feet tapping with a selection of heartfelt, lovelorn material that occasionally veered into sentimental. Ramon's a good guitarist and singer with a great falsetto, and he can write some good songs, but he lacks a little charisma on stage. Ramon's influences seem to be the usual acoustic suspects: Bob Dylan, Nick Drake et al but with a more modern twist melodically. With the current tide of Coldplay/Starsailor type acts, if he gets a band behind him he might get somewhere. His songs are undoubtedly pretty good, but as it is, he lacks a little energy and character that all decent acoustic acts need.
Former Inspiral Carpets frontman Tom Hingley was on stage next. He never played guitar in the Inspirals so I was a little dubious about how he would get on onstage, but he proved an okay guitarist and an adept singer. However, that was just about it. Opening with Inspirals classic This Is How It Feels, Hingley appealed to the crowd in the kind of way that you applaud grandad for not following through after a particularly hasty trump: it's not such a great achievement for someone who once attained almost hero-status to many. He wasn't rubbish, oh no, but he wasn't any cop either, and made a bit of a mess of some classic baggy and post-baggy tunes. The old faves came out: Sackville, Joe, When the Worlds Collide; but coupled with some incredibly ill-advised covers: Backdoor Man by The Doors and Mercedes Benz by Janis Joplin which were clearly to some members of the heaving room a tad embarrassing. The only saving grace was a goodish version of Drag Me Down, but by then it was too late. The audience voted with their feet.
Headlining the night was ex Seahorses singer Chris Helme. Now Helme was renowned even in his early days with the Seahorses as a bit of a crap singer, so the audience was dubious about his talent. Helme immediately proved them wrong with a brilliant set from start to finish, despite being probably the most pissed man in the venue. His voice his improved a hundred-fold, his range is excellent and, unlike Hingley, he knows the meaning of 'dynamics'. He's written a whole heap of great material which shows he was never just John Squire's puppet, and he's gone from York busker to genuine star. He's got bags of charisma and is dripping with emotion, and is quite clearly having fun up there on the stage - that's half the beauty of his set. The other half is simply listening to his songs. He didn't give that many song titles out, but his third song was an absolute classic with heart-wrenching vocals and some clever guitar work. Forget about the Seahorses, these songs were more like Radiohead in their better moments with Jeff Buckley singing. Helme has a fantastic falsetto too. There's the occasional duff number but that's made up for by the good ones, which the audience go mad for - especially a fantastic version of Seahorses song Blinded By the Sun. Helme doesn't need a band. He can fill that stage himself, and he fills the room too. I never thought I'd say this, but Chris Helme Was Great.
And you can quote me on that.