So far in 2010 it’s been unusual to see the whole gang at a gig and tonight is no different as it’s just Andy and I at Fibbers to see Nick Harper, just over a year after the first time I saw him at what turned out to be one of my highlight gigs from 2009.
First support tonight was Martin Hughes, another in the seemingly endless line of men with guitars who show no fear of performing their own material in front of other people. This was acoustic, folky (not the “hey nonny nonny” type) and Martin was a pleasant enough start to the evening. To be honest, though, none of the half dozen or so songs that he performed had anything in them that reached out and grabbed me and there was nothing to really catch my attention. As a counter to that, it’s always strikes me that opening at Fibbers is a difficult job – there was barely anybody in yet, so the place sounded hollow. I suspect Martin might be better hear in a smaller, more intimate venue.
By the time local boy Jonny Dobbs took to the stage, more people had turned up and Andy and I had moved forward to get a better view. This may partly explain why I enjoyed Jonny’s set more than Martin’s. Or it may have been that the songs were catchier, the playing more complex and the voice more to my tastes. The voice was lighter than Martin’s, the songs were lighter and more varied and Jonny used a variety of guitar techniques. In a near-perfect piece of symmetry, Jonny finished his last song while beating time on his guitar’s soundbox – the same way that Anne-Marie Helder (Nick’s 2009 support) opened her set. Looking back, this is the second time I’ve seen Mr Dobbs perform – the first time I suggested his performance was a bit plain. It was anything but this time around.
As an aside here, on another night, I may well have been tempted to purchase one of Jonny’s EPs. He told us that he had some with him but I didn’t really take the time to track him down, being a bit short of funds. As with Jessica Gardham a few weeks back, it seems that the only place to buy his output is at his gigs. I really wish there was somewhere (or some website) where unsigned or smaller label local artists could sell their output. Maybe when I get my lottery win…
Anyway, back on track… Nick Harper finally appeared and treated us to one song before wandering off to the side of the stage to retrieve a bottle of wine (and a glass). “C’mon, we’ve only got two hours!” came a shout from the crowd and the tone was set for the evening. Last year, there were witty asides and bitingly satirical comments. This year, they were mixed with good-natured banter, verging on verbal sparring, between Nick and a handful of the audience who had obviously been to more than a few of his gigs and who were familiar to him. For me, this year’s gig lost something compared to last years – having seen him once, the originality had obviously disappeared – but the music was still worth listening to and the humour still made me laugh. Sadly, last year’s incredible encore song, “Love Is Music” wasn’t part of tonight’s set and, unlike at The Duchess, there was no wandering around the audience. Even more sadly, nick managed to play the entire two-hour set without breaking a string (and replacing it mid song), despite some very hard playing. I was looking forward to seeing that again. I doubt this will end up being one of the highlights of this year, but I will definitely be looking out for Nick playing York again.