James Vincent McMorrow – review

Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

"This is going to be atrocious, but feck it," declares James Vincent McMorrow with as much optimism as a man brandishing a mandolin and battling a heavy cold can be expected to muster. In fact, McMorrow feels so bad he admits to almost abandoning the gig completely. His decision to play is admirable, but his biliousness casts a melancholy shadow over his biggest headline show since the release of his debut album, Early in the Morning, last spring.

It is also the first time his five-piece band have played together – not that you would know it. From the moment the breathless rhythm and faultless harmonies unite beneath McMorrow's trembling falsetto on Sparrow and the Wolf, they are a perfect fit, and the Irish songsmith's haunting, soulful sound blossoms with their support. Following the rollicking folk of Breaking Hearts, just the opening notes of Hear the Noise that Moves So Soft and Low sends fans whooping, though some wolf whistles leave the self-deprecating, self-acknowledged loner looking distinctly uncomfortable.

Alone on stage for an acoustic solo spot, though, McMorrow appears completely at ease. His big notes send Down the Burning Ropes soaring, the shivering beauty of his voice recalling Antony Hegarty at his most intimate and David Gray at his least boring. Having established an eccentric taste in covers, McMorrow's take on Antony and the Johnsons' Hope There's Someone, and then Wolves by Phosphorescent, prove serious and stunning alike.

Reunited with his band, McMorrow "powers through" his own big hitters If I Had a Boat and We Don't Eat. His cold almost wins the day during an encore of Red Dust, but if he is this memorable off-form, infection-free he will be unstoppable.

Contributor

Betty Clarke

The GuardianTramp

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