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Richard Shindell

Richard Shindell timed his 5 date mini tour of the UK to coincide with our brief heat wave so it was quite a warm, humid night at The Live Room, Saltaire. Fortunately as well as a fan aimed at the stage a door was kept open which allowed a cooling breeze to circulate around the front of the room at least. A good crowd turned up to see Richard Shindell, surely one of the most under rated and largely unrecognised singer/songwriters of his age. Although born in the States, Richard now resides in Buenos Aires. It's always baffling to me why the likes of Tom Russell and Richard Shindell don't regularly play far larger venues. However, I'm sure that most of the audience along with myself were very pleased to see Richard perform in such an intimate setting. The Live Room at The Caroline Social Club has been putting on acts for just over a year now. Recent 'scoops' have included The Home Service and Martyn Joseph, full credit to Ron and Hilary, the promoters, although it has to be said that it was a bit of a squeeze to fit all 8 members of The Home Service on the stage.

The evening started with a short but delightful set from the very capable Jess Morgan from Norwich. I first saw Jess in May 2007 at Fibbers in York supporting Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter. She was one of several supports that night so she obviously made quite an impression on me back then. Her stage presence, guitar work and song writing abilities have progressed immensely in those few years and surely a 'Laura Marling' type break could happen anytime. As well as playing support to Richard she has supported the likes of amongst others, First Aid Kit, Teddy Thompson, Chris Wood, Lau and Megson. Jess was the perfect opener for Richard Shindell as she is very much in the story telling vein of song writers. Many of her songs are about travelling as, in her own words, she does a lot of it. She has a great voice and unlike many support acts had that confident manner and introduced all her songs and gave background information. Her very good use and choice of words was emphasised by her very clear vocal style. Call me old fashioned but I like to hear the words to songs without straining. I think the highly polite and attentive audience would have been very happy for Jess to perform a few more songs, recognising that she is a real talent. Jess is well worth taking the time to see if she is playing near you.

The first thing Richard Shindell said when taking the stage was to ask for another round of applause for Jess saying how much he enjoyed her set. Throughout the night a seated Richard switched between a custom made in Buenos Aires white electric which resembled a Fender Stratocaster and an acoustic guitar on loan from Show of Hand's Steve Knightley. It was, apparently, Richard's intention to just play electric guitar for the tour but a change of mind and the offer of the loan from Steve meant both were used. If anything the acoustic was actually played louder than the electric. Sometimes Richard tours with an accompanying guitarist. In 2010 he toured with the wonderfully talented Mark Schulman who created a kind of sonic backdrop to Richard's songs. This time, however, Richard demonstrated that he quite a talented and inventive guitarist in his own right.
 
Richard first two songs were what he calls his road songs, Transit from a 2000 album SOMEWHERE NEAR PATERSON. During the evening Richard told of how wonderfully civilised he thought drivers were in the UK. He had been driving himself around on this tour and described roundabouts as something totally new to him, nothing like them in the States or Buenos Aires where any kind of road etiquette is non existent. The comments that we Brits are very civilised courteous drivers obviously surprised a few in the audience but I guess it's all relative. The song d basically describes traffic gridlock on a Friday evening, brilliantly observing the characters, faces, frustrations and actions of the drivers and their vehicles. This was followed by a new as yet unreleased song The Deer on the Parkway. Richard remarked during the evening that most of his songs fell between road songs and four legged creature songs. The Deer on the Parkway being a combination of both. From the very new he then played as a request By Now from his first album 1992's SPARROW'S POINT, a song he rarely performs live as he calls it 'creepy', hauntingly beautiful would be more apt in my opinion. Continuing the four legged theme he then played Stray Cow Blues, another as yet unreleased song.

Keeping on the road theme we then had The Juggler Out on Traffic from 2009's SO FAR NOW , his last 'new' album. Also from that a chirpy four legged creature song Get Up Clara which must be the only song I can think of that has the word Visigoths in it. A song Joan Baez and Fairport Convention have covered was next, Reunion Hill, an American Civil War song told from the views of a woman waiting for her husband to come back from the war. The chilling You Stay Here was next, this also has been recently covered by Show of Hands. It was after hearing that song on the Mike Harding Show that they invited him to tour with them last year and Richard regularly joined them on stage during their set to join in on his own song. A change of pace to Richards attempt at a country song Kenworth of My Dreams which was perfectly punctuated at the end of the song by a falling glass which Richard thought was perfect for the end of a country song. Another road song, this time from the point of view of a cab driver in New York, The Last Fare of The Day. A new song, an anti Objectivism ditty called Ayn's Air based around Russian-American philosopher Ayn Rand meeting Yul Brynner at the gates of heaven showed the wide range of topics covered in tonight's songs. Two more unreleased songs Your Guitar and Careless followed. Careless was played by tapping the guitar strings rather than finger picking or plectrum. A fairly impromptu tribute to one of Richard's heroes Nick Low was next with a cover of You Make Me, it was the first time he had played the song and Richard jokingly asked someone videoing not to put it on YouTube. The nearest Richard Shindell song to a sing along followed, his Halloween breakup song, Are You Happy Now. I was at Sheffield two nights before where there was a resounding audience participation with this song which left Richard slightly disconcerted saying 'No-one sings at my shows'.

Richard finished the set with another request, one of my favourite songs and one of his catchiest guitar riffs There Goes Mavis. This song is seemingly about building a sand castle before the tide washes it away with the background story of an orange canary escaping from its cage, great story telling. Another piece of perfect timing/synchronicity on the last refrain of There Goes Mavis, the guitar amp ran out of battery and stopped abruptly but at just the perfect moment. Of course the audience weren't going let him go without an encore. No choice now but to use Mr. Knightley's borrowed acoustic for another cover. A traditional song that I will always associate with the Grateful Dead, a beautifully sung I Know You Rider. That was it, 1 hour 45 minutes had flown by. He is a superb story teller, let's hope the new CD will be released soon and that he returns to the UK to promote it.
 
On leaving the venue, long awaited rain was falling, several people were seen to be just standing in it to appreciate it's cooling effect. No doubt that the warm weather will pass and usual Yorkshire climes will resume.
 
Keith Belcher
Northern Sky