Ed Harcourt plays out and about in London all the time, but tonight he’s in a very special venue to play his latest release, 'Back Into The Woods'. The beautiful Cadogan Hall is grand, elegant and ornate, much like Mr Harcourt himself.
Stepping out onto the stage and settling at his piano, Harcourt doesn’t mutter a word, instead allowing the rich Steinway to do all the talking. He breaks into ‘The Man That Time Forgot’, the closing track from February’s fantastic release – his finest album to date.
It’s a delightful song, simple in melody but oozing with feeling. The sadness stings as he sings, "Like a deer that’s just been wounded, he knows that it’s over." But the sound, the playing, the voice is so soothing and lovely, you can’t help but smile.
He bashes through the opening numbers, including ‘Brothers And Sisters’, screeching the angsty chorus at the top of his lungs, and ‘Open Book’, from 2004’s 'Strangers'.
Harcourt is full of passion – he doesn’t hold back. His voice is as smooth and his lyrics as bitter as his own branded beer, Dark Heart, served up before the performance.
Taking to the guitar for the delightful ‘Murmur In My Heart’, Harcourt finally speaks to plug his super-strong brew and to promise he’s not been on the stuff. This silence isn’t like him, but it works to create the mood of the all-encompassing emotion his album is based on – the fear of failing others, failing his wife and children, a lot of love.
His voice is as breathy and woody as a priceless clarinet. We overhear someone say he’s reminiscent of Colin Blunstone of The Zombies, which is a great comparison and should be a welcome compliment. His voice excels on ‘Wandering Eye’, where every note is laced with the venom of regret.
With Harcourt’s old numbers on the set list, too, the night is packed, but flies by. There’s not a dull moment, the set including songs like ‘The Music Box’, ‘Rain On The Pretty Ones’ and ‘Loneliness’. The latter is a surprisingly cheery song about something so depressing, and tonight trades its big backing and guest vocal for just a piano and a very timid audience.
As if it couldn’t get lovelier, Harcourt is joined for his final songs by lone trumpeter Hadrian Garrard, who accompanies his voice with a sound just as smooth for ‘I’ve Become Misguided, ‘This One’s For You’ and ‘Last Will And Testament’. It’s just wonderful.
He ends with ‘Apple Of My Eye’, a classic Harcourt cut, but tonight’s stripped-down sound and serene setting is all about these new songs. That soul-baring reflection on younger years, marriage and fatherhood definitely makes for some beautiful music.
Words: Gemma Hampson
Photos: Richard Gray
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