Birmingham’s marvellous Sunflower Lounge is the epitome of the ‘intimate’ venue, and is just big enough to swing perhaps a kitten. Tonight it is bursting at the seams with an expectant audience here to see former Race Horses frontman-turned-solo artist Meilyr Jones, who is out on tour in support of his recently released 2013 album.
Anyone worrying how such a detailed and complex album, which features a huge cast of musicians playing a vast array of instruments, could be performed live, needn’t have been concerned. Jones has assembled a remarkable four-piece touring band, (all of whom featured on 2013), who between them manage to recreate these very special songs incredibly well.
The Meilyr Jones who wanders onto the stage through the crowd to do a bit of last-minute sound checking before his set is transformed in an instant into the icon-in-waiting Meilyr Jones, whose arresting stage presence sits somewhere between Ian Curtis and Jarvis Cocker. ‘How To Recognise a Work of Art’ is the perfect opening song, it’s insistent Motown drums and chunky guitar riff barrelling the track along. It is hard to think of many examples where the drummer swaps to a flugelhorn for the second song of a gig, but Gwion Llewelyn does just that for ‘Passionate Friend’. It turns out to be a theme of the performance; Emma Smith thinks nothing of swapping her bass for a violin (and later clarinet!) while keyboardist Richard Jones changes to a viola to accompany her. Younghusband frontman Euan Hinshelwood meanwhile chips in with guitar, keyboards and anything else that needs playing.
‘Olivia’ is probably the hardest to perform of all, but again the band are looking as if they positively thrive on the challenge. The intensity of Jones performance throughout is extraordinary; he seems to totally inhabit the music but is still self-deprecating and charming between songs.
B-side of the recent ‘…Work of Art’ single, ‘All Is Equal In Love’ is a real highlight, a sprightly track that sees Jones take on bass-playing duties on a song that could have been an A-side in its own right.
‘Refugees’ is performed by Jones solo on keyboard and vocals and is a really beautifully understated track that was a brave choice of first single from 2013. The stomping ‘Strange / Emotional’ sees Jones improbably climb a speaker stack and slide headlong down the bannister of the steps that run along the Sunflower Lounge’s wall as his band play on.
After a touching ‘Return To Life’ is announced as the evening’s last song, (much to the audience’s collective sadness), Jones and Co. don’t even leave the stage before performing an encore of the fantastic ‘Featured Artist’ , which pretty much showcases all that is great about Meilyr Jones in one track: ‘I am this week’s featured artist / I’m the face of The Observer’s free magazine’ sings Jones on perhaps his most commercial piece to date.
Meilyr Jones turns in a wonderfully warm-hearted performance and everyone here will be feeling that they have witnessed a very singular talent tonight. He must surely go on to conquer the world.
Photo credit (of Meilyr Jones at Green Man Festival 2015): Steven Sibbald
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