Sam Kelly & The Lost Boys, Night & Day Cafe, Manchester, 8th November 2021
Fresh from a Summer of a high-profile stint in Kate Rusby’s band, Sam Kelly can pack away his black dress stage shirt, put the call out to his partners in crime and get out to promote his latest (and yes, long-awaited…) album The Wishing Tree.
But first, as you do, the chance to offer some support to the support who like Katherine Priddy (more of whom later…) at the recent Richard Thompson show, added fuel to the fire that’s our mantra of “always see the support artist.” Just a personal thing but if you removed George Boomsama’s glasses and gave him a number two all-over haircut, I reckon he’d be a spit for Phil Collins circa 1978. He held us with a lovely little set of songs accompanied by his own gentle acoustic playing and even having the bottle to go acapella (with a suitably respectful audience too). He’s lived in Manchester so that’s fine by us; even more so if he also wants to cover Ron Sexsmith. Defintiely worth investing further for a few moments on Bandcamp. The Chinatown EP in particular, with some string embellishments is a quarter hour you’d not regret sharing.
We’re lucky enough to get the bonus appearance of Katherine Priddy later in the main set. Not that she needs to but it’s justified with an “I was in the van“. She’s not long since supported Richard Thompson in Manchester although two support slots in the same town in quick succession don’t always go down well with promoters. What was possibly the highlight of her solo set the other week, Letters From A Travelling Man, gets the full band treatment while testing the stage capacity even more.
Now, squeezing a six-piece band onto a N&D stage that might have been sufficient for the Sam Kelly Trio – accompanied by Evan Carson and Jamie Francis – complete with a fair variety of instruments and pedalboards seriously tested the floor capacity. The arrangement saw Sam front and centre, flanked by the major generals by his side. Graham Coe (playing the rarely seen shoulder cello…) and Archie Churchill-Moss (on one hand melodeon playing and splendid checked pants…) lay in the ranks to provide some sonic depth, leaving Evan Carson bringing up the rear with his usual assortment of things to hit. It’s that core that comes from the melodeon/cello/drums combo that allows Sam’s front line of Jamie Francis and Toby Shaer to add their decorative flourishes on all manner of instruments; the machine gun of notes flooding from the Francis banjo, in particular, gives The Lost Boys an instant trademark.
The set for the tour not surprisingly features LOTS of the new music. It’s a bold decision but shows the confidence they have in the new songs from The Wishing Tree, when they could have easily selected a relatively safe set of what the oldie but goldies that Sam Calls “neither old nor gold” (he’s wrong…) and peppered in a few of the new ones. The one-two hit of Bluebird and Tinker’s Poteen, as on the album is a potent start and the end of the set is reserved for the brooding menace of Steal Fire that simply rocks unrelentingly.
Much of the new material showcases newfound confidence in songwriting prowess and the ability to give even the darkest of subjects an uplifting soundtrack. Guiding Light, however much Sam may deflect the interpretations, really does have a spiritual thrust. One for The Rend Collective to work up maybe? Inspired by nature, mushroom foraging and sleeping outside (too much information??!!) the variety that comes in Nature’s Law, Chalk Line and the harmonium drone on the Gaelic Mo Ghile Mear means they can omit the sure-fire bangers Greenland Whale, Crash On The Levee and the likes of Little Sadie and Jolly Waggoners. Chasing Shadows and the A Close Shave/Shy Guy’s Serve in particularremind us that even though the new music and original songs are the order of the day, the band is building a rich catalogue and can call upon their folk backgrounds to effortlessly lock into a monumental jig at the drop of a hat.
“It’s better to fall than to never leave the ground,” Sam sings at the start of the set. “Better to sing one last song than to go without making a sound.” Very true. There’s no finer sight than to see The Lost Boys in full flight..