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Tom McRae - The Glee Club, Cardiff - 5th May 2013 (Live Review)

Tuesday, 07 May 2013 Written by David Ball

There’s something more than a little ironic about a performer like Tom McRae - who has built a career on tender songs full of loss, despair and heartbreak - playing his first official Cardiff date for around a decade at a venue called ‘Glee Club’ which is normally used for comedy. It’s been a long time for McRae to come back to this side of the border with fans based in South Wales typically travelling across to Bristol to see him. The crowd of around 200 or so people then may be small but is enthusiastic on arrival.

First up are support act Swann. Performing as a 3-piece but technically a solo performer Chloe has a lovely rich voice with a beautiful tone although I think I would have preferred the entire set be just her as the last song where she performs alone is the highlight of her 30 minutes. A bit of a less is more case I think but there are the some decent sounding tracks here. Swann’s debut album ‘Neverending’ (and a separate EP) are available now.

Tom McRae arrives on stage a little after 9pm opening with two tracks from his latest album ‘From The Lowlands’. It’s an understated and compelling opening with the audience completely silent through each song as McRae’s aching lyrics float around the room in a ghostly fashion showing off his vocal range on ‘Nothing On The Dry Land’.

McRae’s humour between songs has long been a hallmark of his live shows and provides welcoming respite from the seriousness of the music, particularly when he plays solo as he is on this tour. His sense of humour comes in particularly handy when, during ‘Won’t Lie’, the thunderous sounds of fireworks start rattling the ceiling panels of the club, a result of Cardiff City Football Club's promotion celebrations happening outside in Cardiff Bay. Taken in stride McRae jokes that he’d have come back sooner if he’d known Cardiff would lay on a parade and fireworks for him.

Mercifully the fireworks relent before he takes to the keys for a beautiful rendition of ‘Sea Of Blue And Green’. While the small crowd is at first a little reluctant to join in with the singing when requested by the time ‘End Of The World News (Dose Me Up)’ is played everyone’s had a few extra beers and joins in happily. The small crackle of applause that follows the opening chords leads McRae to remark that in his head he feels like he’s Bruce Springsteen headlining the Millennium Stadium. Starting the track again to mass applause, whoops and cheers he breaks into a quick blast of Bruce’s own ‘Because The Night’ midway through the song bringing cheers and laughter in equal measures.

Providing a strong balance throughout previous albums while ensuring ‘From The Lowlands’ gets a good collection of songs showcased it’s a well designed set which closes with the always popular ‘One Mississippi’ prior to a two song encore of the heartbreaking ‘All That’s Gone’ and a closing salvo of ‘Lord, How Long’ with a little bit of ‘Graceland’ thrown in for good measure.

It takes real skill to perform the haunting type of songs McRae plays, particularly solo when the lyrics are front and centre for 90 minutes without losing the focus of a crowd or becoming stale. McRae manages this impressively throughout using both between song humour and interaction during songs to maintain variety. All credit to him too for taking the fireworks in his stride, many performers of serious songs like this would’ve (maybe understandably) got irritated by the distraction and pretty brutal lack of quality soundproofing.

It seems unlikely at this stage of his career Tom McRae will ever get the popular attention the quality of his song writing and live performance so richly deserve. If that is to be the case, his small but loyal fans will surely be happy to keep him in business as long as he wishes to keep writing and touring.

Tom McRae’s latest album ‘From The Lowlands’ is available now (check out Stereoboard's review here).


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