Way to Blue – Symphony Hall, Birmingham Thursday 12/05/2016


Damian settles in for an evening of the music of Nick Drake

A celebration of local singer-songwriter and musician Nick Drake’s music through modern reinterpretations of his timeless songs. This was an evening, originally commissioned by THSH in 2009, that returned to Birmingham for a one off performance to help mark 25 years of Symphony Hall. The evening was curated by Drake’s producer Joe Boyd (also MC on the night) and featured original orchestrations by the late Robert Kirby. Jon Thorne anchored the house band along with special guest artists including Vashti Bunyan, Green Gartside, Sam Beam (Iron & Wine), Glen Hansard, Sam Lee, Olivia Chaney, Kami Thompson and James Walbourne (The Rails). Nick Drake was undoubtedly one of the most influential English singer-songwriters of the last 50 years and found little mainstream success during his lifetime.

The evening commenced with the house band running through an instrumental version of “Way to Blue”, Joe Boyd arrived on stage and gave a run through of what the evening withheld before introducing us to Green Gartside, front man of the wonderful Scritti Politti who shared a version of “Fruit Tree”. Mr Gartside then introduced Kami Thompson and James Walbourne to the stage, otherwise known as London based folk band The Rails. They chose the song “Parasite”. Kami has a fair connection to Mr Drake as her father Richard played guitar on Nick’s first two albums and mother Linda was a love interest and sang backing vocals. The stellar cast rolled on and next up was Mercury prize nominee and frequent Folk award winner Sam Lee with a wonderful version of “Three Hours”.

The brilliant Vashti Bunyan shares a superb version of “Thoughts of Mary Jane” before being replaced on stage by Olivia Chaney who gave us “From the Morning”. The talented son of Ewan MacColl, Neill MacColl joined us to play Time of No Reply” before Sam Beam otherwise known as Iron & Wine gives us his take onHazey Jane”. My favourite Nick Drake song “Ride” is offered up by Green Gartside and James Walbourne, followed by “Riverman” interpreted by the hugely talented Glen Hansard, singer of the underrated band The Frames. The final song of the first set is “Poor Boy” performed by Mark Abis, Neill MacColl. James Walbourne, Kami Thompson and Kate St John.

A short interval is followed by Olivia Chancery recommencing the second half with a piano version of “Way to Blue”. Sam Lee returns with “Cello Song” before Kami Thompson and Sam Beam run us through “Time has told Me”. Molly Drake had a profound impact on the musical style of her son so it was fitting that Mark Adis stepped up to share one of her compositions “A Sound”. The set flows with Vashti Bunyan returning with “ Which Will”, The rails version of “Pink Moon”, Sam Lee and Glen Hansard sharing “Know” and Sam Beam playing “Place to Be”

The show is rounded off with “Clothes of Sand” sung by Green Gartside and the last song given to Glen Hansard in the form of the superb “Northern Sky”

The encore has Sam Beam, Glen Hansard and Olivia Chancery return to the stage for a version of “Saturday Sun” before all these exceptional artists gather to finish with “Voice From the Mountain “

This was a respectful and at times breathtaking tribute to Nick Drake and his music, proving that he is still relevant some forty years after his passing. It was a shame that the wonderful Symphony Hall was only half full to appreciate these world class musicians

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