'I told myself that I would never dress in black and stand in front of a slightly bored congregation in church', was how Tom Mcrae described the situation he found himself in as he performed at Revelation St Mary's, in Ashford. The son of two vicars, and now a family of three as his sister has also become a woman of the cloth, stood alone with no Standing Band behind him. McRae delivered an acoustic solo gig with just a drum stick, a tambourine, a few guitars and a loop pedal as he enthralled the crowd before him.
Astrid Williamson, formally of Goya Dress, played support ahead of her Union Chapel gig the following day. Her set seemed to have a certain fluidity to it as she added tracks in, after she'd time checked just how long she had left. Astrid's crisp Scottish vocal suited the acoustics of her surroundings brilliantly as she performed alternately with guitar and keyboard. Two songs lifted from the close of her 2009 album, 'Here Come The Vikings' worked particularly well in the ecclesiastical venue. The reflective refrain of 'Eve' and the resigned realisation of the overall more optimistic 'The Stars Are Beautiful' were played out note-perfect to the captivated audience.
With no backing band to enhance the evening, Tom McRae was left to perform an acoustic solo set; just him, his instruments, his artistry and his undoubted charm. The pair (he and Astrid) had missed the chance to perform the previous week as the show in Guildford was snowed off (even though Astrid had honoured her Travelodge booking as she didn't want to waste it!) but Tom was match fit and on top form all night. He wasn't there to deliver a sermon but he did litter the evening with some great anecdotes. 'I did a TEDx talk. Usually it's to do with technology, or exciting a generation of start ups. The guy that was organising it said, so Tom, what are you talking about? I said I'm going to talk about how hard song writing is. I'm going to say it's easy and then I'm going to twist it and say it's hard and I'm going to come up with seven fundamental truths about song writing. He said, Oh, that's cool. Last week we had someone in who basically cured Ebola, but have a good one. I felt very proud.'
McRae performed a set culled from his extensive back catalogue and made sure that many of them weren't just carbon copies of what you'd find on the record. From last year's album 'Ah, The World, Oh, The World', 'Mend Your Heart' was given a magnificent extension to almost double its length as Tom built on the repeated chorus, using his loop pedal to great effect. 'Expecting The Rain' was similarly transformed from its original origins as McRae layered the sound to epic proportions.
'It's quite intense, isn't it?' Tom quipped ahead of another highlight from his 2015 album, 'Did I Sleep And Miss The Border'. The brief moment of levity headed up a faithful rendition of 'Let Me Grow Old With You'. Tom's voice was filled with an impassioned melancholy as he bathed the venue in achingly beautiful vocals. 'Show Them All' cut through with equal effect as Tom fully exploited the fantastic acoustics of the venue. 'Sit down and shut up and swallow your medicine', Tom sang out with a measured drama that held his audience captivated. Tom's story-telling prowess was fully evident throughout the night as he lit up the stage with his performance. 'Won't Lie' showcased both McRae's extraordinary gift as a songwriter but also here his ability to fully engage an audience as he invited them to provide his backing vocals. He was the choirmaster to their choir and it worked staggering well. Tom took an altogether different approach with the minimalist arrangement of 'Forgive Me, Dear' but clearly connected with each of his songs on each of his performances.
Tom plucked songs from many of his albums but it was probably the ones that have book-ended his musical career that had the biggest impact on the night. The piano ballad that carries a sadness in its lilt, 'Sao Paulo Rain', the lyrically adroit 'Hidden Camera Show' and the ever popular story that plays out in 'The Boy With The Bubblegun' were all set highlights drawn from his eponymous debut. Tom's delivery of each of these songs sounded pure and heartfelt, as if it were the first time they'd been played as he performed them with such readily evident passion and presence.
McRae thanked people for coming out on a wet night in Ashford, 'whether you've been dragged, or were the draggee'. With ever increasing velocity, Tom played out the rousing penultimate tune 'None Of This Really Matters' to a crowd that had embraced every minute of his set. In magnificent surroundings Tom McRae had delivered an equally magnificent performance.
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