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James Vincent McMorrow seems to be genuinely overwhelmed by adoring reception of Bristol’s Anson room as they noisily jostle and yell, upgraded from the smaller Fleece to this thankfully larger school gym like room, and behaving nothing like one would expect from such a gentle artist’s followers. Having seen McMorrow at last year’s Green Man festival in the unseasonably warm Brecon Beacons, I thought this would be a sedate affair, with a few hard edge folkies – instead the room brims with beery students, surprisingly upbeat and rowdy for this genre.

‘Sparrow and the Wolf’ breaks in joyful and uplifting, and miles away from the more mournful solo set I had previously encountered, full of tambourine and picked strings all smoothed along by that rich vocal and excellent harmonies. Next ‘And if my Heart Should Somehow Stop’ trips out beautifully with its lyrics full of longing and love lost, as seems the theme of this young man’s laments, but wildly Jeff Buckley like in the ‘You’re not too late’ refrain and end warbling, so clearly lifted from Grace’s ‘Lover You Should’ve Come Over’ that I find it distracting and genuinely irksome. ‘Down the Burning Ropes’ luxurious warmth brings much redemption, as the band weave other worldliness out of this unforgiving setting, the greatest shame being that the intimacy of a smaller venue was sacrificed for ticket sales, as noisy half interested people chatter at the back breaking the spell. The scourge of many a larger venue indeed.

One heckler gets his wish granted as McMorrow busts out an impressively accurate guitar rendition of Midlake’s ‘Roscoe’ after the chap relentlessly yells the songs title at him for most of the gig – strange but brilliant. The now infamous ‘Higher Love’ cover hushes the room and is genuinely touching despite its advert weary status, and picked out with a kind of blundering grace on the piano, its sentiment rings true. ’Red Dust’ is passionately delivered with some wonderfully tender revelations “sometimes my hands don’t feel like my own, I need someone to hold”, and flows on into ‘From the Woods!’ that jangles to a great folky crescendo, the clear root of many of those Bon Iver comparisons.

‘We Don’t Eat’ is clearly a crowd pleaser, and I don’t blame them, it’s beautiful, soft sentiments expressed with Irish integrity and a rousing tempo, set me wondering just how quickly this emotive fare will appear on a film soundtrack, or, heaven forbid, some teen drama backing music. As if he has not left us feeling emotionally vulnerable enough this close to Valentines Day, an excellent cover of Chris Isaak’s ‘Wicked Game’ sends the room silent and doubtless triggers many regrettable texts to past lovers. After all, that’s what live music does.

Words: Helen Brown
Photo: Laura Palmer
Video: Yatin Amin