St Pancras Old Church, London England
Wednesday January 16th, 2013
It’s a freezing, bitterly cold night in London and I’m going to church to see one of my favourite singer-songwriters, Ron Sexsmith. Gigs in churches seem to be ever more popular these days, I guess it must be because the acoustics are so good. This gig takes place almost a year to the day that I last saw Ron Sexsmith perform, that was in a church too, the Union Chapel, Islington, London, a fine venue for acoustic music if ever there was one. I thought that was an intimate gig, until tonight. St Pancras Old Church is very small, very intimate and I can’t believe I’ve been lucky enough to nab a pair of tickets.
As soon as you walk through the door you can sense that this is going to be a special evening. After presenting my ticket the chap at the door handed me a goody envelope which contained a signed and numbered limited edition print of a self portrait of Ron. You can see it at the start of the “Snake Road” lyric video. What a great way to start the evening.
The next surprise is that you can buy cans of lager to take into the church, wonderful news. I settle into my seat, there are a few people already inside the dimly lit chapel but you sense that even at full capacity this place will not hold more than one hundred people. Time for a quick reality check, I’m in a tiny church just around the back of King’s Cross station, one of the biggest rail transport hubs in London and that in March of this year the artist I’ve come to see will be performing at the Royal Albert Hall, that’s a truly big gig!
The start time for tonight is 8:30. About five minutes before then this guy ambles down the aisle, steps up onto the alter, turns around, waves and rather nervously says “hi everybody” before stepping out through a side door. It’s Ron. Just a few minutes later he shuffles out from the side door and is standing at the centre of the altar, acoustic guitar in hand and kicks off the set with “Snake Road” from his soon to be released album “Forever Endeavour”. Ron has again teamed up with Mitchell Froom to produce the new album. More new songs follow, “She Does My Heart Good” and “Nowhere” mixed in with songs from the back catalogue “Lebanon Tennessee”, “Get In Line”.
You can see Ron is relaxed and enjoying playing and singing. Although the church is small it has a very high ceiling for a small space and his voice just fills the air and it sounds warm and rich in texture. He is no slouch on guitar either and his playing compliments his vocals perfectly. More new songs follow, one of which “Me, Myself and Wine” he introduces as one of his favourite ways to relax when he’s at home is to drink some nice wine whilst listening to music.
There was one particular moment in the set that made the hair stand up on your arms. During the intro to “Nowadays” as if to remind us we are in a church, the church bell started chiming for 9:00 p.m. which kind of added to to the sensitivity of the song.
Midway through the set Ron changed from guitar to piano. The first piano song was what must be his calling card number, “Secret Heart” and it sounds great. This was followed by “Gold In Them Hills”. He strikes up a good rapport with the audience in between songs, he talked about the upcoming show at the Royal Albert Hall in March and said “if you’re thinking of buying a ticket, see if you can bring twenty friends along”.
We are hearing these songs in their purest form, just guitar or piano and vocal, like demos I guess. In fact Ron himself said that “these songs will probably sound quite different when you hear the new record as there are string and brass arrangements as well as bass and drums”. I don’t notice anybody complaining, they sound great.
Ron then threw in a cover version of Leonard Cohen’s “The Faith” form his “Dear Heather” album. I didn’t know the song but it sounded at home in the set. I once read somewhere that Ron had made a bit of a name for himself as a human jukebox because he knows and can play so many songs. Maybe a covers album could be a lot of fun for him to do as a future project, I’m sure he must have thought about it. It could be included in any further new releases as a bonus CD or as part of a limited edition pack or just an album in its own right. Just an idea.
I’m looking forward to the new record coming out (Feb 4th for the UK, Feb 5th Canada/US) and hearing the new songs fully fleshed out, I’ve already pre-ordered mine.
There have been so many great songs performed tonight and the set was made up of a good blend of totally new songs as well as some well chosen earlier songs such as “Trains”, “Clown In Broad Daylight” “These Days” and “Believe It When I See It” from the “Late Bloomer” album. Ron drew the evening to a close mentioning that the venue had a strict curfew. It finished shortly after 10:00 p.m.
He left the stage / altar to huge applause and it’s over and as I look around, I see lots of smiling faces and nobody is in a rush to leave. I spot some familiar faces, Graham Gouldman (Yardbirds, 10 C.C), Tracey Thorn and Ben Watt (Everything But The Girl). Ron Sexsmith is a musician’s musician, he has many famous admirers most famously Elvis Costello who for years has championed his work. This was a brilliant, uplifting gig and I’m grateful I was there. Now it’s time to venture back out into a freezing London and the journey home.