If you’ve not yet stumbled upon Josh T Pearson’s new album, Last of the Country Gentlemen, then read this excellent review by Alaistair Mackay in Uncut and see if it sways you.
It won’t be to everyone’s taste. It is at times uncomfortable listening. You’re right in there with him, as he whispers and croons poetic but raw, unashamed and often cruel confessions of his unravelling relationship. As someone at NfMP said after full submersion in the album: I feel like I know him more intimately than I know my closest friend. It’s not always pretty, but it’s always beautiful. After listening to the album on repeat for a week I took to self-medicating with Onda Vaga. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a pleasure to lose yourself in there, but nice to be able to bring yourself back.
Three weeks after playing to a sold out Slaughtered Lamb (~150 capacity), Josh was back in London playing to a sold out Union Chapel (~800). Pianist and composer Dustin O’Halloran opened the show, delivering a note-perfect performance of cinematic arrangements. The ideal support for Pearson; creating a meditative and reflective space for what was to come. Dustin toured with JTP’s previous band ‘Lift to Experience’ and later in the show Josh credited him as being one of his heroes.
JTP wandered onto the stage, deliberating with the audience: “Jacket on or off?” Jacket off. He’d requested little or no light on him during the sound check. Once the sun had set he asked: “Can you see me? I wasn’t sure about the lights cause it was daytime when we set it up. S’alright? Cause I’m reaaally good looking” (said with a smile). “It’s true! I totally forgot to shave this morning”. Some more jokes followed, about how he’d planned to play from the pulpit and rise up from behind it just as Dustin finished his support. He’s naturally funny and endearing, but you sense his sharpness, he’s no fool.
“The King is Dead” he bellowed and he passed his hand over his face saying, “serious face, serious chords” and with that silence fell, as he launched straight into ‘I Ain’t Your Saviour or Your Christ’, which lasted over twelve minutes and managed to make you feel like it’s just you and him in the chapel in the dark. It felt almost dangerous. There was total silence apart from the irritating click from photographers who buzzed around the front of the stage. Not appropriate on this occasion - even though they were doing “the Lord’s work”, as JTP said. Though they did get some good shots. Union Chapel staff said they have never seen an audience so entranced… and silent.
He played most of his set unaccompanied, but for a couple of songs (‘Country Dumb’ and ‘Woman When I’ve Raised Hell’) he was joined by strings (not his idea, but because someone thought it needed to be grander for the Union Chapel) and Dustin on piano. He admits, and it seems, they were slightly unrehearsed.
In between songs he told more jokes: “What do you call a musician that just split up with his girlfriend? Homeless.”
“Mickey Mouse is on a charge for killing Minnie. The judge says – ok Mickey, so after all these years of love and devotion, you’re telling me you killed Minnie cause she was crazy? And Mickey says: I didn’t say she was crazy, I said she was f*cking Goofy!” And so on. Throughout the night he continues to pepper his dialogue with “the King is Dead“.
Here’s his second song: ‘Woman When I Raise Hell You’re Going to Know It’:
And third: ‘Sorry with a Song’, that has a distinctly Buckley-esque (Jeff) feel. Though as another friend put it; he makes ‘Grace’ look like Justin Bieber.
By the end of his encore we were wrecked (but exhilarated)… and understandably, he was too - exhausted from touring these songs. They’re not easy to listen to and, one imagines, even harder to perform. He invited the crowd along to the after-show drinks at the Buffalo Bar. “Password?” he says – “The King is Dead”.
The password did actually work.
Josh T Pearson returns to London 26th November to play the Barbican. We suggest you get your tickets now before they sell out.