[sic] Magazine

Live: Gambles @ The Castle Hotel, Manchester 4th May 2014

In the recent Coen brothers film, the titular Llewellyn Davis – played superbly by Oscar Isaac – carried an almost visible sense of road-weary melancholy in his every scene and that same heavy-heartedness resides in stellar support artist Stefan Melbourne (his touching, barely-there duets with his girlfriend included).

Seemingly just as at home in the folk clubs of the East Village as down in the roots of the Midwest or out in Asbury Park, Melbourne is highly atmospheric, a American-sounding singer-songwriter in the strongest tradition. His spellbinding frailty, led by a breathy vocal that belies his relatively tender years, is such that it manages to moisten more than a few eyes tonight in the ever-impressive intimacy of The Castle Hotel’s wooden vault, Melbourne’s lyrical elegance replete with the weight of ages.

On stage first however is the equally arresting Fiona Bevan (a shock-haired St. Vincent lookalike) and she has a touch of the old world chanteuse to her, her hushed and smooth attic-core so redolent of Sunday mornings you can practically smell the coffee amidst her plucked and folksy cooing. Complementing tonight’s who’s-who roster of rising acoustic slingers is local political poet Shaun Rivers whose formative diet of Cool Britannia slots into the running order with Jarvis Cocker-style observation and somewhat divisive invective.

Then up moseys the main man, battered acoustic in tow. Matthew Daniel Siskin, Gambles for tonight, has an on-off relationship with what he calls “the future”, constantly going from unplugged and off mic to centre stage and jacked into a pedal. He’s most comfortable though when he’s stalking the crowd, sitting amongst them and making small talk, his boot heels echoing off the wooden floorboards as he walks. And, whether he’s whistling like Leonard Cohen or hanging his words in the pregnant silence of the room, it’s all very effective. There’s a level of magnetism here that you just can’t buy.

Curiously though, for someone who so strongly recalls Bob Dylan on record, there’s no trace of hero worship tonight (save, perhaps, for the passing resemblance circa Times They Are a-Changin’). No, he’s entirely himself. Full of humility and humour he freely admits he doesn’t usually headline making it a special night if for no other reason … but with this sort of wonderful performance though it’s more than made doubly so.