With nods to Nick Drake and Neil Young, Neil Halstead offers a celebration in songcraft of the highest order at Liverpool Philharmonic, Getintothis’ Andy Kelly is wrapped in his warm embrace.
I probably owe Neil Halstead an apology.
The last time I saw him perform – admittedly some 20 years ago – I didn’t really pay him too much attention. This is what happens when you share a stage with Rachel Goswell, dreamy Slowdive frontwoman and one third of the early-90s indie Holy Trinity whose faces filled my bedroom wall which included Harriet Wheeler of The Sundays and Evan Dando-muse Juliana Hatfield.
Halstead of course was the main songwriter in Slowdive, a band which rose to swift prominence while shoegazing was in vogue with the press before suffering a critical mauling as the writers moved on to grunge and Britpop. It was an unfair end to a band which made some beautiful music (track down the Catch the Breeze EP if you’re young enough not to remember them).
After Slowdive came Mojave 3 which I dipped in and out of before Halstead embarked on a solo career which has just spawned a new album in Palindrome Hunches.
In a small room at the back of the Phil, Halstead attracts only a small crowd of around 50 Tuesday night souls but I’d be surprised if every one who of them didn’t go away and bring back a few mates next time.
Halstead is a songwriter of the highest order and his guitar-playing is like a warm embrace, not so much playing his instrument as caressing it.
Early on, you can’t get away from the Nick Drake comparisons and indeed there’s at least one moment when I’m convinced we’re about to hear a cover of Northern Sky.
Later on, with the addition of his own excellent harmonica, we’re into country-era Neil Young, especially on the likes of Wittgenstein’s Arm, where an injured war veteran regrets he ever learned to play the piano.
The excellent Bad Drugs (and Minor Chords) has been used in an anti-Drugs campaign in America he tells us – despite his protestations that he wrote it while high – while album title track Palindrome Hunches showcases his way with a winning couplet with its clever “Ah Satan sees Natasha” line (see what he did there).
Digging Shelters and Hey Daydreamer are another two winners from the new record to track down as Halstead rewards those who have turned up with a set which is a celebration of songcraft.
He’s happy to take requests but there’s only one, perhaps a sign this is an inquisitive crowd rather than one full of hard-core fans. After tonight though, there may be a few more of those.
He tells us his guitar is just the second made by a buddy in Cornwall who normally makes surfing boards and you definitely think this man has made a good career change.
And with even small rumours of a Slowdive reunion, perhaps its Neil Halstead’s time again too, riding the crest of his own small but perfectly formed wave.