Monday, June 13, 2011

Rich Batsford / Jules Gray @ MAC, Saturday 11th June

After reading some great reviews and listening to a couple of tracks on t’You Tube I’d been meaning to go and see Rich Batsford for a while now. The unveiling of his new album, Mindfulmess, provided me with just the metaphorical kick up the ass I needed.

Before Rich, Jules Gray played warm up guy with a delightfully informal set of original songs and covers taking in a bit of Dylan, Stills, Harper (Roy) and Young (now there’s an idea for a new supergroup). After pointing out a yellow splodge on his shirt (the result of some errant gravy), explaining his surprise at the rather posh dressing rooms and generally endearing us all with his loveable lack of pretension he was then forced to enlist the help of one of the audience to retune his guitar after struggling to whip it into shape for a minute or two. On top of a knack for winning over a crowd he’s got a powerful voice (capable of hitting and holding notes better than a lot of singers) and a real gift for interpreting songs as well as penning some distinctly Dylan-ish originals. A real Jules in the rough.

Rich Batsford’s been merrily ploughing his own musical field for a number of years now as a pianist and singer with a flair for conjuring up tracks that encourage us all to take a little time out for reflection. Rich is a Buddhist, something I know little about other than the fact that it seems to be a pretty sensible way to behave (what with whole karma thing...a lesson most of us could do with learning methinks). Meditation and contemplation also seem to be big part of the Buddhist way and that’s clearly filtered down into Rich’s beautiful music. This evening saw the unveiling of his brand new album, Mindfulmess, a collection of songs about life, love and everything in between. It all kicked off with a playback of one of the album’s highlights, On Til Dawn, a dreamy soul cleanser of a track that combines a repeated piano motif with some gorgeous multi-layered harmonies. Add the equally dreamy backdrop of visuals from VJ Chromatouch and it neatly transported you into another world. It’s not often that gigs begin with a playback but, as Rich explained after wandering onstage, it’s a hard track to play so “I thought I’d just show the video”. Hmmm, short of cloning himself I guess those multi-layered harmonies would be a bugger to recreate. The rest of the evening though was pure, 100% live Batsford though and, from start to finish, it was the musical equivalent of a great big hug. Okay, bear with me here a mo. Hugs...everyone love’s a hug, right? A hug makes everything feel better somehow. For a few precious moments all the crap in the world (and the world is pretty stuffed full of it) melts away. Well, that’s just what Rich’s music does. That’s not to say that it’s all a bundle of laughs, lyrically there’s some quite dark stuff going on here as Rich himself acknowledged, but there’s an overwhelming feeling of hope too. In fact much of the material that he played this evening is concerned with trying to find inner opposed to working our asses off to buy the latest i-Gadget. Given the economic turmoil that’s still unravelling it’s a particularly timely message eh?

The spirit of Rich’s musical hero, Brian Wilson, ran through a lot of the material this evening, extending to a cover of I Just Wasn’t made For These Times and Rich’s very personal response to the track, Guessing Again. It’s a measure of Rich’s ability that this unofficial sequel sits so comfortably next to its parent song. In amongst all the new stuff Rich also took the opportunity to revisit his previous album, Valentine’s Court, a gorgeous collection of instrumental tracks that really show off his prowess as a piano player. Of these the fluid beauty of Namaste, as gentle as summer’s breeze, magically transformed the humble surroundings of a suburban arts centre into something infinitely more beautiful. A brave attempt at improvising a completely new track, live onstage (recorded for free distribution to all those who signed up to his mailing list) was also pulled off with remarkable ease with Rich revealing that he’s got a whole album’s worth of these impromptu sketches ready for release soon. Impressive stuff.

After touchingly thanking his mum and dad for “all those piano lessons” the set closed, as Mindfulmess does, with Everything and Nothing (possibly one of the only tracks ever recorded that credits ‘the Buddha’ as a co-writer) which somehow managed to distil Buddhist philosophy into a song that’s as catchy as it is thought provoking. “If you’re thinking too much and you’re way out of touch, let it ride” sang Rich at the track’s conclusion. It’s an excellent piece of advice but here’s an even better one...make a little room in your life for Rich’s music. Trust me, you won't regret it.

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