[sic] Magazine

Ed Harcourt – Liverpool Scandinavian Church – 7th June 2013

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In February this year, Ed Harcourt released his 7th studio album, Back Into The Woods . It was recorded in a day and featured largely just Harcourt’s vocals and piano playing. This UK tour continues that theme. To fit the occasion and mood of the album he has chosen to play churches and halls off the standard circuit.

Tonight’s venue, the Scandinavian Church, just outside the city centre, is like being in somebody’s house. Downstairs has a large, dorm-like room of sofas and table football, and a search for the toilet finds lots of bunkbeds. Upstairs is more like a living room, paintings of Scandinavian ships on the walls, plenty of ornaments, candles, a fireplace and tea, coffee and cake being sold by a helpful, older chap. Temporary chairs are out, although not enough for tonight’s sold-out show (around 100). An ‘Academy’ venue this is not.

Harcourt enters through the same doorway as the rest of us, and moves to the grand piano by the window. There is no stage, tonight is an intimate, communal affair.

“Wooooah! It’s hot!”
It certainly is a balmy Friday evening.
“Why am I wearing this long coat?! Let’s see how long I can keep it on!”

Bar a lone backing vocal or violin on a few songs, this is a solo performance, but by no means lacks any accompaniment. Such an accomplished player, Harcourt adds bass and a rhythm section on his piano, as well as playing the actual song itself; during ‘God Protect Your Soul’ the grand piano is physically rocking.

The set spans Harcourt’s career, featuring songs from 2001’s Mercury-nominated debut Here Be Monsters right through to Woods . Harcourt’s take on fatherhood on recent single ‘Hey Little Bruiser’ sounds as touching and personal as on record, despite the live setting.

Harcourt is certainly in upbeat mood tonight, whilst the crowd wait politely between songs. He jokes whilst introducing ‘The Pretty Girls’: “From time to time your music gets used on adverts or TV, and it’s unavoidable. This song is on … Made in Chelsea. I’m very proud.”

‘Rain on the Pretty Ones’, possibly Harcourt’s finest career moment to date, sounds as powerful and moving without the orchestra used on record, as the strength of song-quality, voice and musician continues to compel the audience. For his final song, ‘Until Tomorrow Then’, Harcourt creates a loop of feedback from his guitar and grabs a distorting microphone, before clambering into the crowd. For a seated venue, this means people shuffling along seats as he stands on chair, towering over the crowd, picking out individuals as he sings. Quite a way to bridge the gap between performer and audience.

Although it does not end there. After exiting via the same stairs, Harcourt is back, and unexpectedly invites us to join him upstairs. Upstairs is the more church-like prayer room, complete with rows of pughs and ornate ceiling decoration. As we arrive, he is midway through playing ‘Brothers and Sisters’ on the house church organ. With no microphone, Harcourt moves to play a smaller organ at the back of the room, the crowd having to about turn. He then walks into the centre of the crowd, playing an unplugged guitar and singing, fittingly, ‘Church of No Religion’. This is truly encapsulating. The lyrics of ‘Last Will and Testament’ in this setting, being sang mere feet away with no electronic assistance used, could not possibly be more striking ( “I’ll be here with you long after I die” ), despite Harcourt confessing to being an atheist.

It is testament to his talents that a solo show with limited instruments and resources can remain so moving, interesting, and fun, that the crowd, fittingly disciple-like, follow Harcourt upstairs to watch, in silent, respectful admiration. Not one to milk the adulation, Harcourt asks for our backing vocals accompaniment, and enthusiastically accepts our attempts.

His coat, in case you were wondering, remained throughout, although the crowd had long since forgotten to check. A truly unique and absorbing show, provided by one of the UK’s great artists.

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