Exactly a week on from seeing Saint Saviour and Bill Ryder-Jones in Manchester I couldn’t resist seeing the same super-bill at the other end of the M62. As the Kazimier began to fill up, it seemed appropriate to hear Nick Drake coming out of the speakers since Bill Ryder-Jones is a Merseyside musical troubadour in the same vein as Tamworth in Arden’s finest. Ryder-Jones lyrics, music and way with a guitar share much with Drake. Crucially though, Bill’s words focus on the minutiae of everyday life and emotions, and the stories he tells in his songs are quite far removed from that of the privileged Drake, yet similarities remain. Ryder-Jones seems far more comfortable in the studio than on the stage but it is a musician’s lot that the public want to see an artist’s creations in the live arena and so Ryder-Jones has found himself on a nine date tour of the country. There was much anticipation surrounding this final ‘home’ date in Liverpool and it was very much sated by two wonderful performances.
Bill and sidekick drummer Jack Prince ambled down the steps and onto the stage as the house band, accompanied by two backing singers from Switzerland, and four members of the Manchester Camerata perched “on the shelf” behind, as Becky Jones put it. Jones’s stage persona is Saint Saviour and tonight she arrived all sexy and slinky in a long black skirt, opening her set by standing behind her keyboard and letting her amazing voice dazzle the audience. There was a polite silence as the Liverpool cognoscenti took in the marvel that is Saint Saviour’s haunting melodies before a suitable applause and recognition of this thing of wonder. Saint Saviour’s set included the highlights of Fallen Trees, Sad Kid, Devotion, James, Nobody Died, and Let it Go.
The hour long performance seemed to reach a perfect crescendo as each song was followed by an even better one, time and time again. The Kazimier was by now pretty full and apart from one talkative gobshite behind me, gave Saint Saviour suitable attention as she wowed us with an impeccable performance. As with Manchester, she closed with the superb Reasons. I overheard her talking to a fan later on and explaining that she was nervous because the last time she played Liverpool she did so to about two people. If her career continues along the trajectory it should (and deserves to) she needn’t worry again. At the exact time that Saint Saviour was playing to the small but appreciative Kazimier crowd, a bunch of far lesser talents will have been playing to millions and pleading for votes with bad luck stories on ITV’s X-Factor. There really is little justice in this world. On a similar note, whose stupid idea is it to bulldoze the Kazimier? It’s a great little venue with superb acoustics. Save it lids.
After a short break Bill Ryder-Jones alongside bassist Kev and keyboard player Joe took up their positions. Bill stood stage front swigging from a bottle. “We’re just trying to shit Jack up” he commented about his AWOL drummer. Audience and band began appealing for him and Jack eventually appeared (non-apologetically it has to be said) at his stool. With that Bill began his set with a croaky A Bad Wind Blows In My Heart which he acknowledged by suggesting that he had forgotten his’ armour’ before flipping his hoodie over his head. From here on in, his performance was masterful. A beautiful Hanging Song followed (We sat talking till the morning came, She smoked her cigarette, And I held my tongue) whilst There’s A World Between Us was wonderfully rendered; “won’t you be there to catch me if I miss a step, or if the floor gets wet?”
In between songs the usual Liverpool crowd interjections began to flow batted back with great assuredness by Ryder-Jones. Mind you, he can give as good as he gets as his deconstruction of By The Sea’s Liam’s hair showed, much to the latter’s embarrassment. Apparently, when it’s in curtains mode, he’s pissed. There was much laughter between songs but crucially, the music is never affected. Dedicating the popular Lemon Trees #3 to his watching Dad (another victim of some gentle ribbing) the show hit its stride and band and Bill were playing majestically. At this juncture the band departed, leaving Bill to impart a wondrous By Moring I before introducing Seabirds saying that if we didn’t like By Morning I (the cheers suggested the opposite) then we would hate the next one. He needn’t have worried. Seabirds is stunning and sounded more fully formed than it had in Manchester.
The band returned and attacked with gusto the instantly recognisable He Took You in His Arms (our favourite lyric, recalling the best of other artists who depict love on the streets where the normal people live) and the show just got better and better. Catherine and Huskisson saw a storming performance of a new song that is surely destined to be added to the canon of great Liverpool songs. Similarly Wild Roses had Bill moving from quiet introspection to a harder sound with some fabulous guitar slung in, and a voice near me suggested he enjoyed hearing both sides of Bill’s oeuvre. “Who else thinks that’s gonna be a hit?” Ryder-Jones asked. The crowd left him in little doubt they did. “Don’t be fucking stupid” came the laughing retort. The waltz-like Anthony and Owen, another plaintive paen to childhood, lulled us in before a muscular Wild Swans almost closed the set. “It’s not over till they say it’s over” he sang before stopping mid song. “It’s not over till I say it’s over” Bill said. “We go again. We don’t let this slip” he muttered to the delight of the Evertonian hordes, and I swear I saw some Kopites smiling too. The song picked up again and Ryder-Jones guitar solo was breathtaking.
Bill and band were spellbinding tonight and it is by far the best show I have seen him deliver. With If… and A Bad Wind Blows in My Heart Bill Ryder-Jones has set very high standards. Seabirds, Catherine and Huskisson and Wild Roses all suggest there is so much more to come and I for one can’t wait.
Bill Ryder-Jones looks likely to be cherished in this neck of the woods in much the same way as Mick Head is. If the rest of the world don’t get it, then so be it. But they should.