Tom McRae has released 8 studio albums, numerous live albums and demo / b-side collections. I first heard of him on the short-lived music channel, The Amp. I saw some infomercial type interview about Just Like Blood and was then hooked.
The last time I saw Tom was at The Sage. It was a serene performance ruined at times by a drunk woman singing louder than Tom. Andrew joined me that night as a Tom McRae virgin, as Ste couldn’t make it. The Cluny gig was the 6th time I’d seen Tom live (although one was an in-store performance). Ste had been with me for 4 of those. I’m pleased to say that both Andrew and Ste were with me at The Cluny for our first proper gigamonth (proper includes essential ingredients; just the three of us, a pint, a chat and some food) since Haley Bonar in May. The food (The Rumble Po’ Boy Jumble!) & beer (Andrew had a Wylam DH Table Beer and Ste & I had the space in between…or something like that) were up to the usual high Cluny standards.
Support act: Lowri Evans opened the evening supported by Lee Mason on guitar. I enjoyed the set, which included a Welsh intro to a Welsh language song. It was nice to hear little anecdotes and stories behind the songs spread throughout the set.
Tom McRae: Tom took the stage at about 9.30pm. Totally unassuming. He slowly ambled onto the stage and picked at a few guitars before letting Dave know he was ready to start. I was instantly transfixed in the performance as Tom ignored the guitars and opened with an a capella version of Mermaid Blues. Simply amazing. That was soon followed by my favourite song of his latest album (album; Ah, The World! Oh, The World!), Show Them All. Tom performed using a range of acoustic guitars, an electric guitar, a couple of harmonicas and a piano. Every song was stripped back and completely beautiful. Show Them All & Summer of John Wayne were both acoustic before the only use of the electric guitar on Won’t Lie. Won’t Lie was the first of a number of audience participation songs. The was a respectful and quiet hush from the crowd throughout, but every opportunity to get involved was taken with real intent.
2nd Law followed on piano. Achingly heartfelt. Next up was How The West Was Won which transformed into a cover of Free Fallin’ by the late, great, Tom Petty. Tom Petty had died a short time earlier and his passing clearly affected the thoughts and performance of Tom. When Runnin’ Down A Dream came on the PA after the gig, it sounded amazing and very poignant.
The High Life provided another opportunity for “angry” audience participation and Tom started taking some requests, checking in with his little red book every once in a while.
Everything seemed so relaxed. Tom commented that the lack of a band meant it could be that way. No need to rehearse. Take it as it comes. Sao Paolo Rain was sensational.
Tom seemed to warm up his on stage patter as the night went on, revelling in the recent life transforming nature of having a song covered on the Norwegian version of The Voice.
Tom indicated a new-found purpose to performing. The world is so screwed up at the moment, that if he can just depress his audience enough during a gig, then the world might not seem so bad in comparison when they leave.
At this point in the gig, I was completely absorbed. When he was taking requests, I wasn’t in the least bit compelled to make one. I don’t care what he played. He could have played anything from his back catalogue and I’d have been happy. Yes, I have favourite Tom McRae tracks, but I didn’t need to hear them tonight. I’ve heard them before and was just wanting to be taken away by whatever was next. It Ain’t You, Expecting The Rain, For The Restless and Ghost of a Shark were next. Ghost…bled in to Please before My Vampire Heart. None of This Really Matters was the penultimate song and only one of two played from the next album (which I’d have been happy to hear in it’s entirety). He closed with One Mississippi. An encore was not needed. Lights up. Tom Petty on.
I’d come to gig clutching 4 of Tom’s albums to be signed, hoping he’d be out before or after the show. I already had 4 signed albums, so was hoping to complete the set. He kindly obliged and stopped for a serious selfie. I left very happy.
Tom had arrived at the gig following an epic journey. He delivered a fantastic performance.
I left the gig thinking that this was the sort of performance I’d like to see again. I wondered where else he was playing, but figured I was unlikely to go to another gig on this tour. I’d never done that before. Never been to another gig by a band or artist in the same tour. Ste and I had recently discussed whether this was something we could see us doing. We thought it unlikely.
I listened to a bit more Tom on the way home (From The Solo Lands) and thought, what if?
The next day I was in Rotherham with work. I was taking someone with me. At 7am they let me know they weren’t well. Tom was playing in Leeds that night. Well, considering I’d already travelled down, it would be rude not to. Ticket booked. Night two.
There was no Andrew & Ste. I arrived in Leeds at about 5.30pm. 3 hours to kill. My phone wasn’t going to have much battery left! I had a nice pint of Wardrobe Pale Ale and a burger and headed downstairs to watch Lowri Evans (this time solo) at 8.30pm. Another enjoyable set, made even better by the previous nights familiarity.
Tom joined us on stage at 9.30pm and after some guitar lead issues, he opened again with Mermaid Blues.
I was right at the front for this one. There was a small change to the start of the set with For The Restless replacing Summer of John Wayne. Tom described it as the best opening of set that he’d done for some time. Who am I to argue?
The set started to change as the requests came in. Sao Paolo Rain
was the first request, at the same point in the set as at The Cluny. I shouted for Walking 2 Hawaii
with several others and that followed. Simply stunning. Possibly my favourite Tom song. This version was incredible. Simple he said.
Human Remains was another audience shout which really appealed to Tom and this was followed by It Ain’t You. Tom then spotted a “hole” in the audience and unplugged his guitar and took a trip to the centre of floor and performed Bloodless. The strict curfew was looming and so previous night set closers; None of This Really Matters and One Mississippi followed. Ghost Of A Shark was then sneaked in under threat of fine and the set was closed with Free Fallin’. Tom dedicated the night to Tom Petty. Rest In Peace.
Ramshackle. Heartfelt. Meandering. In all the best ways. Thank you, Leeds. And all who are travelling to multiple shows! #dave #dave #dave
— tom mcrae music (@tommcrae) October 3, 2017
I travelled home, pleased to have experienced two incredible nights. I was pleased with my spur of the moment decision and thankful to a supportive wife for not complaining!
I’d completely immersed myself in Tom’s back catalogue before The Cluny gig, listening through all the studio albums and most of the other collections. I normally respond following a gig, by stopping listening to the band or artists for a while. This is not one of the those responses. Ah, The World! Oh, The World! is a stunning album, that gets better on every listen.