An impromptu review: John Smith, The Crescent, York

john smith musicianJohn Smith isn’t to be confused with unremarkable beer, for there is nothing unremarkable about this guitarist and songwriter.

Whether John Smith is still the most common name in the English language is something I do not know; but I do know that this John Smith is uncommonly talented.

I didn’t go along on Sunday night to write a review. This wasn’t a journalist’s freebie – just a paid for night out. But this man is so wonderful that word must be passed on.

Reviewing folk CDs for a magazine edited by a former colleague introduced me to Smith and his new album, Hummingbird. John Renbourn called Smith “the future of folk music” – a quote that’s prominent on his website. Smith is compared to many people, often John Martyn, who he supported in Martyn’s late days.

Richard Thompson is mentioned sometimes, too – and Smith is certainly a guitarist of great skill, yet that comparison isn’t quite right. Smith’s music is warmer and more romantic – blokey romantic, his songs shot through with gruff tenderness.

He opened his set with the title track from Hummingbird, an impossibly lovely five minutes of music that rings in your head long after, like a secular hymn.

Smith was accompanied by Joe McGurgan on double bass and John McGurgan on guitar – and when he tells you that these Belfast boys are brothers, it comes as a relief, for otherwise you wondered how he found two musicians who look so alike. The sound made by this trio was is warm, generous and enthusiastic it sweeps you along on a happy/sad tide.

There is humour, too, for Smith is a natural at the chat and banter, throwing out witty one-liners and self-mocking slights between songs.

Where Smith really scores is that he is so completely into his music, everything is sung and played with love and passion, and he just enjoys himself so much, as in their understated way do the McGurgan brothers. As does the audience.

As this wasn’t a proper review, I didn’t pay attention to all the song titles, although I know that he played Lowlands of Holland and Lord Franklin but didn’t play the thundersome Axe Mountain (Revisited).

An astonishingly good night, one of the best.

rachel newton harpTwo other reasons for this quick review. One, support act Rachel Newton, who performed beguiling songs from last summer’s album, West, singing and playing an electro-harp. Two, John Smith’s shout-out for Joe Coates and Please Please You – the promoter who keeps live music going in smaller venues such as this former working men’s club.

Thanks, Joe – that gig was memorable.

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