Upon entering the hallowed halls of famed Manchester venue, Band on the Wall, it becomes adamantly clear that a good night will be had. Known for its eclectic and defining status as a music venue, it seems that there is no better place to house tonight’s acts. Both headliner, Roo Panes and supporting act, Jack Watts are here to share with us new material from their perspective new releases.
As the first bars of Watts’ keyboard intro to Angel start to ring out in the venue, a line of eager fans pile in from the adjoining bar area, ready to consume some much needed musical medicine. Angel, he introduces after the song closes, is a new addition to his set, only a week old, and it’s a song that is sure to become ever-present in his live performances going forward. One that showcases his immaculate voice, and his personal and incredibly emotive etchings on young life. Watts is charismatic on-stage, trying his best to drum up some sort of conversation with the attentive but quiet crowd, explaining that “This is my second time in Manchester, I’ve still not seen it sunny!”
While Manchester’s often disappointing climate is always one for discussion, Watts makes for a happy and most welcome alternative to the dreary weather raging on outside. Indulging in material from his debut EP, here he relies more on his traditional influences of Dylan and Buckley, revelling in a kind of heart-baring expression that belies his young age. But more so, it is within his new tracks were we find Watts’ most impressive output to date, taking a leap towards a more R&B-led soul stance, his growing maturity as an artist is on full display here.
Switching between electric guitar and keys throughout his set, as an audience member this can become cumbersome to watch, and you can’t help but think when he reaches a position where he can bring in the backing of a full band to aid him, this would be a whole different story. Yet his vocal presence is enough on its own to hold your attention, with every lyric soaring, coursing and feeling deeply resonant upon its inception. Especially, for the ones that are rooted in the most painful or testing of situations.
Being first on can be daunting, especially for a solo artist, alone on-stage with the eyes of expectant punters waiting to be impressed gazing upon you. But with Watts persistent approach, likeable personality and light-hearted humour, he manages to break the ice and in the end, win over a warm response from the crowd.
Set List: 1- Angel, 2- Stray, 3- Lost It All, 4- Push Blue, 5- Red Shortbread, 6- Don’t Let Me Down (The Beatles cover), 7- How It Is
Jack Watts new EP ‘How It Is’ will be released on 1st April.
Taking to the stage with the accompaniment of his band, is folk-pop troubadour, Roo Panes. As a fan, I had been waiting for this moment to arrive ever since I first experienced watching Panes perform live in the spring of 2015. Back then, he came with his 12-string in hand and a collection of pastoral folk songs, that spoke of romantic sentimentality and heartfelt encouragement. Following on from there, we met again and this time he had brought along a friend, his cellist, continuing the development of Panes’ live sound to progress. Till we reach the pivotal moment, of the full band show, which is were the night’s festivities begin.
Opening with previous single Home From Home, taken from his debut album. We are immediately met with the sound that Panes’ intended to produce. One that is surprisingly richer than what we have come to be familiar with on record, only accentuated by the coursing harmonies of female and male backing.
Next stepping into new song Corner Of My Eye, an ode to the bright sparks in our lives that shine through our every waking moments, like the threads that are keeping us together. Soon building into a revelry, the impact is stupendous. Which quickly follows into the gracefully-met Stay With Me, this was the first acknowledgement of Panes’ new material to appear from his new album, late last year. Live, the song feels fulfilled, engaging its mandolin-led melody with organ, additional percussion and sumptuous vocal harmonies.
Throughout the set, Panes continues to prove his ability to construct wholesome and grand arrangements around his existing compositions, showcasing his and his fellow players remarkable skill and precision as musicians. Witnessing the amount of combined talent that is on show here is something to take from the show, with 12-string guitar, electric guitar, cello, viola, organ, drums, keys, tambourine, trumpet, mandolin, violin and egg shaker all make an appearance at some point. And a few members of the band switching instruments during the course of the performance, means that a staggering amount of sounds and textures fill the room in a celebratory glow.
In between songs, the banter between the band and the audience is kept to a minimum, but when the back-and-forth’s do come along, they offer up insightful and humorous outtakes of candid moments within the band from their rehearsals, and how it felt right to bring back old favourites like Open Road to the set.
Watching the set unfold, song by song, the realisation forms that it is truly bereft of any filler tracks. All the songs chosen work together to create a beautiful tapestry of a songwriter who’s astute and prolific output to date, is astonishing. His voice marks the universal truths and observations of a generation, delivered with a vitality that blossoms at the touch. Roo Panes just might be one of Britain’s truest and most necessary hopes in modern music.
Set List: 1- Home From Home, 2- Corner Of My Eye, 3- Stay With Me, 4- Tiger Stripped Sky, 5- Lullaby Love, 6- Summer Thunder, 7- Vanished into Everything, 8- Paperweights, 9- Indigo Home, 10- Open Road, 11- The Original, 12- Where I Want To Go, 13- I Was Here
Roo Panes’ new album ‘Paperweights’ will be released on Friday. Pre-order a copy here.