John Smith, TJ and Murphy: Epstein Theatre, Liverpool

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A home grown hero and two Liverpool likely lads provide a magical night of acoustic talent at Liverpool’s Epstein Theatre. Getintothis’ Sean Bradbury gets lost in their sounds.


TJ and Murphy may sound like the name of a funeral directors. but the tales this acoustic duo tell and the songs they craft are very much alive.
What they produce is so timeless and they are so endearingly caught in the moment while playing, it is easy to imagine they never stop – maybe somewhere off stage a huge volume dial is slowly raised as the curtain comes up and lowered as it falls.
Rolling melodies dance into focus and weave intricate, lulling textures before gently, almost imperceptibility, subsiding. It is at times difficult to tell where one number finishes and the next begins but in the best way possible.
There is a lightness of touch, tender harmonies and fragile finger-picking, allied to a beguiling power to transport the audience to the scene of their stories. This is not music to listen to, but to surrender to and get utterly lost in.
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TJ and Murphy weave their acoustic spell
Highlights were Joe Crazy Rose and their slow, shimmering take on Springsteen’s Dancing in the Dark. All in all a testament to picking local support acts and an ideal way to introduce John Smith.
The man who was born in Devon and raised at LIPA is well known to many in this city. He honed his unique style and abilities in Liverpool venues and we can almost – and will one day surely try to – claim him as ours.
He kicks off with a couple of newies from most recent record Great Lakes. What is soon apparent is his transition from sublime technician with a great voice, to brilliant songwriter and singer with outstanding guitar technique.
While his vocals chords have always been a potent instrument, they now arguably take centre stage, aided and abetted by more conventional playing with sparing virtuoso flourishes.
Previously, his party pieces and variations came in the form of effects pedals and physical manipulation of his guitar’s body. They are now expressed vocally; leaning away from the mic, singing unaccompanied, segueing from husky and murderous to delicate and restrained in the space of one lyrical line.
All this is evident on Freezing Winds of Change, one of the standout tracks from his latest album, and on his laid back jam of Jai Paul’s Jasmine.
Smith continues with old favourites perhaps requested by old friends – Something Terrible and To Have So Many – and finishes the main set on She Is My Escape.
His two-song encore bookends his back catalogue: the prodigious, typewriter nativity that is Winter, which tells the Christmas story through percussive sounds and harmonics produced with the guitar on his lap; then a short sign off with the delightfully simple, lilting melody of Salty and Sweet.
The beautiful truth of his remarkable talent lies somewhere in between.
Pictures by Getintothis’ Gaz Jones

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