Back before Christmas Robert J. Hunter escaped the UK lockdowns to return (temporarily) to the Bailiwick for the holidays and played a sold out show at St James Cafe.
Given the success of that night and the continued lockdowns in England he’s stayed in the islands and so another show, this time in St James’ main hall, was booked with support coming from Hollie Lucia and newer duo Lula & Gene.
The newer act started the night and were, certainly, something a little different to the other solo acoustic performers comprising, as they do, bass and guitar and a more indie rock outlook.
Nonetheless they seemed to hook most of the audience, seated ‘cabaret style’ at tables, and sounded bigger than ever doing so.
While drummer Brett Stewart is very much a known commodity and sounded as good as one would expect, and it was great to hear him have a little more room to try some different things, it was bass player and singer Maisie Bisson who particularly stood out showing how she has really grown as a confident front person in the band and as the set went on she became a truly engaging and captivating presence.
While mostly made up of covers they give their own spin to them making them their own with highlights coming with Porridge Radio’s Sweet, Dream Brother by Geoff Buckley, Pixies’ Gigantic and the set closer, their own track, indie funk number OG.
Following the louder performance it took a few minutes for Hollie Lucia‘s quieter, dream pop influenced, acoustic indie to cut through to the audience, but once she did she was, expectedly, mesmerising.
While playing totally solo tonight rather than with recent collaborator John Sealey, she still sounded great and particularly when she reached her more well known tracks, on which she was obviously more confident, she held most of the room enraptured.
While single Scales-Weights was a highlight it was the laconic dream country of Canyon that was the stand out song of the set for me.
And then Robert J. Hunter took to the stage and from the powerful opening of Loving Unfortunately he took us on a ride of, in his words, ‘uppers and downers’ ranging from some old favourites to brand new songs.
Better Man was an early highlight, written in the early days of lockdown back in London, while Preacher was a high point of some of the older numbers.
As the set went on it was astonishing how one man and a guitar could hold the attention like he did and create such a sound with no tricks or gimmicks just simple blues based songs and playing.
During the set Rob received a few stand ovations for individual songs including a cover of The Band’s I Shall Be Released, while newer song Written In Gold contained some genuinely ‘wow’ moments in both his playing and signing.
In a few places some ‘lead breaks’ were thrown in you wouldn’t usually expect from an acoustic performance, delivered with a terrific confidence but never felt like they were showing off and he rounded off the set with a song that goes back to his earliest days, Hurricane, which sounded bigger now than ever.
This being my first time in a long time seeing Rob perform a full solo set (in this case clocking in at around an hour and twenty minutes) it was great to see how he could command the attention of the audience with ease without the power of the band so it was no surprise when he was called back for a genuine encore which came in the form of John Martin’s Over The Hill that was a fitting end and again got a standing ovation.
As well as the music this show also marked the first time some of the new equipment St James have invested in was used and it showed a great step forward for the venue in terms of both audio and visual presentation and I can’t wait to hear it with a full band, but for tonight it provided a new balance and clarity to all the music and its great to see a venue investing in the presentation of live music at this scale.