Monday, 13 May 2013

John Grant - Gig Review Birmingham Institute 9 May 2013

John Grant at Digbeth Institute Gig Review. 9 May 2013.

John Grant is unique. Articulating in words the music he plays is incredibly difficult, but the background to this incredibly warm man is quite amazing, which led me to seeing him at Nottingham Glee club touring his first album, and an easy choice to see him in the Library Room in the Institute. It's good that his show is so brilliant, as following the day I had had at work I was in a reasonable grump when I arrived minutes before he came on stage, chuffed to find Budweiser now on tap.

So why is John Grant unique? Well in a world of pretend pop stars, rich kids in bands going to Brit school and churning out tunes, he's definitely been through the ringer, as an artist, he had been in the Czars in the late 90's, early 2000's, not a band I had heard, but he would have beenin his 30's then. Rumour has it he then dropped out, was homeless and was plucked from obscurity by Midlake (thanks Iain!), who knowing his earlier work encouraged and supported him to record his first solo album, the critically acclaimed Queen of Denmark. Another year or maybe 2 and the follow up album, preceded by the single Pale Green Ghosts was dropped, to rapturous applause from in particular both Mark Radcliffe and Stuart Maconie, and listening to their 3 hour show daily, you got to hear them enthuse a lot.

So what makes the songs unique, well taking the first album, the songs are beautiful, piano laced, heart felt but really accessible as the lyrics are very much everyday language, so a particular favourite will be Sigourney Weaver, with the lyrics

And I feel just like Sigourney Weaver
When she had to kill those aliens
And one guy tried to get them back to earth
And she couldn't believe her ears

This was the first song I think that grabbed me by JG, such an odd juxtaposition of words and music, then Mars, about a sweet shop from being a kid I believe. The other thing hat jumps out from both albums is the regular littering of profanities, F bombs galore, but said matter of factly rather than gangster rappy.

So to the gig, and a cracking 2 hours of John which must have covered most of the 2 albums, great banter in between songs although covering some of the darkest subjects, the suicide (shotgun) of a friend, being HiV positive, homophobia, but all of them delivered in a manner than caused a laugh and allowed you to think about them.

The band were all exotically named Icelandic chaps (with caps) except really for the chap from Coventry, but he got a rapturous welcome. Iceland ring John's adoptive home now.

Got to 10:30 and I was expecting that to be it, what with modern curfews but no, we got a half hour encore. Great value for money, or VFM as the kids would say. Definitely one to get me out of the funk I was in, that and the Budweiser anyway.

So you probably don't know John Grant but I will heartily recommend either album, the second with warm electronics replacing those pianos. Just don't play the tunes with Children round!


  1. Brilliant gig from the big man as always. Glad you enjoyed it and VFM ist certainly was - for the unrepeatable Ernest Borgnine/Ethel Merman anecdote alone!! Just one thing on your review - it was Midlake who tracked him down and produced the first album not the National. Credit where credits due!

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  3. Iain - you are right absolutely, it is Midlake, I'll get my coat, good skills