It is never good form to turn up late to a gig. Aside from being rude, you’re never quite able to fully enjoy what’s going on. When punctual audience members laugh at jokes that are clear callbacks to something that has gone before you smile and nod in a pretence of understanding, hoping to not be exposed for the fraud you most certainly are. You resist the urge to shout out when prompted for ‘any requests’ for fear of requesting a song that’s already been played. You are on the outside looking in.
But, sometimes late arrival is impossible to avoid. Such is the situation I find myself in on this Friday night in Bristol; a combination of terrible traffic and the need to eat means that the Ben Watt Trio have already been playing for half an hour or so when I walk into Bristol’s Fiddlers. I’ve completely missed support act, Meadowlark – a shame for I have previously blogged about them here.
Ben Watt’s new album, ‘Hendra’, has been a late-night listen in my house over the past months. The man who takes the back seat in ‘Everything But The Girl’ comes into the limelight thirty years after releasing his only other solo album and shows that he shouldn’t be in the shadows. ‘Hendra’ is a spirited album about grievance and loss. Written and recorded whilst reflecting upon the sudden death of his sister, Jennie, it’s at times an emotionally wrought listen – but it’s also a positive statement about hope and resilience.
It’s a state of relaxed contemplation that we find Watt in tonight; at times, it’s just him behind electric piano; at other times, it’s a full trio with Bernard Butler on guitar (Suede) and Martin Ditcham (Talk Talk) on drums and percussion. Whatever the musical combo, we rarely get more than a pedestrian shuffle, the slightest of peaks before a return to the downbeat, dark and morose that permeates throughout. There are strained smiles from Watt, Butler and Ditcham but you suspect they’d feel more comfortable if they didn’t have to.
And for many of the audience gathered this is exactly what they want from a Friday night in Bristol. I’d guess at an average age of 45. These are people who are perhaps on their second or third marriages. They cling to Watt’s words because his poetry means something to them. Since the EBTG days, he has written the soundtrack to their lives. Yes, there are a few Friday night revellers expecting Butler to break out into a ‘suede classic’ but mostly the people here don’t want any surprises. “Who am I fooling when I say I have no regrets?” sings Watt on current single, ‘Forget’, and the audience tap their toes and nod their heads in recognition of the emotion on display.
“I always think I write songs about some form of resilience. There is some form of hope, even in the darker moments,” explained Watt in a recent interview. There are few here tonight, even those who arrived late, who will disagree that this has been a pretty brilliant exercise in subdued positivity.