John Grant and the Royal Northern Sinfonia: Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool

John Grant

John Grant

In a night celebrating his well deserved rise to success, Getintothis’ Jamie Bowman sees John Grant at his glorious, heartfelt best.

It’s virtually impossible not to warm to John Grant. A big bear of a man with the polite manners of a Southern dandy, this likeable 45-year-old’s ability to go from playing Liverpool’s tiny Static Gallery to packing out a prestigious venue like the Philharmonic Hall in the matter of a few years is one of the more heart-warming stories in modern pop.

The fact that Grant has done this with such old fashioned virtues as wonderful song writing, confessional lyrics and one of the finest voices around is all the more pleasing and there’s a feeling that this latest tour, complete with the Royal Northern Sinfonia chamber orchestra is a chance for artist and fans to wallow in this unlikely but deserved success.

It feels like an occasion and as the smartly dressed but stubbly band ease their way into gorgeous songs like It’s Easier and the cosmic dreaminess of Marz, complete with Grant’s grand piano and the kind of rich chord progressions that made Elton John a star, it’s easy to slip into the refurbished Philharmonic’s seats and let these great tunes wash over you.

If there is a criticism, and we’re perhaps nit picking here, is the pace of the show’s first half which feels distinctly one dimensional. Grant is a comfortable and assured performer with charm to spare but there’s an impression that the presence of the orchestra is holding him back a bit. There’s a mannered politeness to many of these songs which begins to verge on easy listening as each one follows the same classic template.

It’s a relief then, when the previously rather anonymous backing band (made up of Icelandic electro odd balls Gus Gus) begin to kick in, in tandem with the orchestra on a visceral version of Pale Green Ghosts which sounds like Kraftwerk sound-tracking Cape Fear. As Grant tortures a 303 and the electro pulses radiate around the previously lethargic crowd it’s a rare glimpse of his more adventurous side.

To his credit, there’s a definite sense that Grant himself realises this and there’s a new found dynamism that courses through the rest of the show. That’s The Good News sees him channeling the spirit of the Flying Lizards with a delightful maverick freedom while GMF sees him recapturing his penchant for filth as he dedicates its devastating pay off (“I am the greatest mother fucker that you’re ever going to meet”) to an adoring throng. The fact that these words are set to songs reminiscent of Dennis Wilson’s masterpiece Pacific Ocean Blue, makes them that more special.

By the show’s climax, Grant seems overwhelmingly more comfortable in his skin, as he pours his heart and soul into a stunning version of perhaps his greatest and wittiest tune Queen of Denmark. before finishing with a powerfully dramatic Glacier. It’s Grant at his best – honest, funny and with a chorus so glorious, the long and heartfelt standing ovation is the least he deserves.

Pictures by Getintothis’ John Johnson