BONNIE 'PRINCE' BILLY
Chris Evans said on the radio the other day that it's funny how you begin to appreciate country music more as you get older, a fact that has scared me because it's true (another frightening fact is that I was listening to Radio Two at the time). However, and I suspect that anyone who frequents the same station will know, Bonnie 'Prince' Billy's alter-ego, Will Oldham, pioneers alt-country, which is, of course, an entirely different matter and so it appears I am fairly safe for now. Anyway, technically, I am admittedly only here tonight through word-of-mouth, and the odd track siphoned from the six albums he has released in this guise over the last half a decade or so. I don't know any of the songs played by name. Does this mean I am particularly unqualified as a reviewer on this occasion or a fresh, non-judging pair of ears?
What I do know is that what I'm hearing is really very good. A genuine talent, revered as much for his facial hair as for his song writing, the unlikely-looking hero in the hick-town Elmer Fudd hat remains utterly mesmerising this evening despite the fact he strums nonchalantly and growls almost incomprehensibly, at least from my position at the very back of the packed venue, surrounded by big beards. And, what's worse, most of them are old beards. Actually, that's not true at all. The varied audience interests me. Lots of glamorous young things stand alongside middle-aged married couples who stand alongside twee music whores, all of them different, all of them gazing forward in adoration. Which makes this a gig so much more enjoyable than many others recently, because there seems no room for fakers.
And, as Cambridge falls silent (and I mean possibly the most hushed I have ever experienced at a live show before), the eerie atmosphere merges wonderfully with the beautiful and softly spoken harmonies and simple piano onstage, switching from real Americana to Iron and Wine-esque country/folk, yet always with a gentle sway. Bonnie Billy doesn't say a lot in words (apart from the few episodes of banter with his band members) but speaks in emotions, introspective lullabies being the general order of the day, powerful and true, perhaps delivering more "listening" than "watching" music than warrants the average Joe's attention. Just as well, because the crowd prevents me from seeing the performance most of the time, so I settle on a man at the front who looks like he is having a kind of religious experience. A bit farfetched for me; still, if I had a soul, it would be touched.
A mighty "yee-haw" to Alison Millar for sorting the evening out for me and my ole plus one.