Bill Ryder-Jones at Thekla, Bristol: Live Review

Bill Ryder-Jones live at the Brighton Chalk on March 19th, 2024 (Alessandro Gianferrara)

Bill Ryder-Jones live in Brighton

Bill Ryder-Jones is equal parts intense and enlightening.

Unusually for an artist about to enthrall an audience for ninety minutes, Bill Ryder-Jones gets the niceties out of the way early on.

As he and his six-strong band take to the stage, he immediately thanks those who purchased recent album Iechyd Da before getting down to business, acknowledging that they have a lot of songs to get through.

With a steadily burgeoning back catalogue to choose from that’s no surprise, even if tonight’s set consists of tracks from three of his six studio albums (albeit Yawn & Yawny Yawn covering the same ground), yet there is no shred of arrogance or even confidence, as he has to jokingly (one assumes) reassure himself, muttering, ‘This is a totally normal thing to be doing on a Sunday night, it’s fine’.

In contrast to support act Brooke Bentham, whose soaring vocals filled the venue (even with a depressingly chatty crowd), Ryder-Jones’ hushed tones add to the intimate and reverent vibes, even with a packed stage.

Unusually, the drum kit is positioned to the far side (right next to the wall of the venue) and its typical spot is filled by the cellist, while the bassist is clad in an Ireland rugby shirt to honour their victory in the Six Nations the day before and St Patrick’s Day.

The opening trio consists of songs from the recent album; the subtle I Hold Something In My Hand gets things off to a quiet start, while the breezy Christinha – complete with upbeat tempo shifts – and the yearnful If Tomorrow consolidate that it will be a set not short on emotion, even if Bill Ryder-Jones does his best to lighten the mood between songs (‘We’re just fine-tuning…the in-between moments’).

Thereafter, it’s back eleven years for a run of songs from A Bad Wind Blows In My Heart, consisting of the quasi-title track (Pt 2), with achingly beautiful slide guitar, the winding country of Hanging Song, the elegant beauty of Anthony & Owen, and Wild Swans.

The latter has a false start, with Bill Ryder-Jones querying if he had messed up the start when, in fact, for the first night of this tour (as he admits), he hadn’t.

The understated ache of Hanging Song recalls Badly Drawn Boy, while Bill Ryder-Jones’ proficiency on electric guitar is highlighted on Wild Swans, a reminder as to why he was drafted in for Arctic Monkeys’ live set-up.

There follows another trio of songs, this time from West Kirby Country Primary; Wild Roses, a stinging Daniel and a solo, acoustic Seabirds, the latter resulting in a pin-drop moment from the crowd.

Bill Ryder-Jones seems on good form, responding to every crowd comment gamely while offering an unnecessary apology of sorts: ‘I feel like I’m scowling, it’s cos I hate not being pissed. I’ll be all over the shop later on, I’m just taking this job a bit more seriously.’

Then it’s back to Iechyd Da for the closing section of the show, barring a grin-inducing Two To Birkenhead. Equally, the smile on his face as he encourages his band to extend A Bad Wind Blows In My Heart Pt. 3 eliminates any doubt as to his enjoyment, while the glorious, spectral This Can’t Go On closes out the set.

Equal parts intense and enlightening, with this album and a run of shows, Bill Ryder-Jones has surely cemented his place as one of the UK’s most underrated gems.

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