Will Varley @ The Montgomery, Sheffield

 

So this gig was a bit different to the usual fair you’ll find on Mixing Up The Medicine given that it was essentially a sit down folk music gig in a theatre, so a little different to my usual pit fest. To make it extra different for me, I even took my wife AND my mum and dad.

I’ve been a fan of Will Varley for a few years now, having happened across him on the line up at a festival I was at. Somehow this ended up being my fifth time seeing him this year, having seen him touring his latest album ‘Spirit of Minnie’ back in February and then by crossing paths with him at three other festivals this year.

I think he’s a really great song writer, with a varied repertoire that covers musings on modern life, history and current affairs with a mixture of styles ranging from comedic talking blues right through to poignant and heartfelt ballads. Consistent throughout it all is an amazing knack of telling a great story.

Opening the night was local lad Ben Ibbotson, and he seemed to take his task of getting the crowd warmed up very seriously! He had a cracking voice and his indie-esque songs were very catchy. He did his upmost to get the crowd involved, evening managing to get a bit of a singalong with his set closing ‘These are the Days’.

Next up was Dubliner Ailbhe Reddy (…don’t worry, I don’t know how to say it either). She cut a somewhat diminutive figure on stage at first, but soon grew in to her set and seemed to warm to the audience as she went on. Her songs consisted of intricately plucked guitar melodies on a rather fetching 1950s style hollow body electric guitar, accompanied by a beautiful and delicate singing voice. It was a very different vibe to the opening act, but the audience were more than happy to listen and absorb the songs, which whilst introspective, were still absolutely captivating. A really enjoyable set from an artist that I really didn’t know anything about.

And then on to Mr Varley. A lot of the shows he’s performed this year have been with an accompanying band, with ‘Spirit of Minnie’ consisting of several songs that probably need accompaniment to bring them to life. Tonight however, it’s just Will and a nylon strung Spanish guitar and it’s ace.

He played a 90 minute set, but if it weren’t for my bladder insisting on a rest room break part way through, I don’t think I would have noticed (…and having to get up to go to the loo when it’s a sit down gig is proper awkward!!!).

As always it’s a really entertaining show. The songs alone are great anyway, but there’s also a great rapport with the audience and it’s not unusual for him to break off mid-song to tell a little story or joke about him messing up the words. There seems to be a lot of older material covered with favourites such as ‘Seize the Night’, ‘Weddings and Wars’ and ‘We Don’t Believe You’ all played as well as a few more obscure tracks such as ‘February Snow’ and ‘Advert Soundtrack’. In fact I don’t think he played any songs from that most recent album. As always the heartfelt ‘The Man Who Fell to Earth’ is beautifully done, though I do have to say that the arrangement on the full band version of the song is stunning if you ever do get chance to catch it.

The crowd seem most enthused for the comedic songs in the set. ‘I Got This Email’ is a genius song, brought up to date with refreshed political references, and there’s a new song also about what might happen if the internet broke. As popular as these songs are though, it would be doing the quality of the songwriting a disservice to think of these as where Varley excels and I think the beauty of the set is probably the effortless ease from which he can switch from making you laugh out loud to making you want to cry and think more deeply about what life is all about. The show ends with my favourite song ‘King for King’ and it seems a fitting end to a cracking performance.

Having had a hectic touring schedule this year, Varley has announced that he’s planning to take an extended break to spend time with his wife and their recently born daughter, but he’s vowed he will return, and I know I’ll be sure to get along to more shows if his as soon as he does.

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