Where: The East Wintergarden, Canary Wharf, E14
The evening didn’t get off to the best of starts. Ruth had been caught up in the vagaries of the London transport system, rendering her nearly half an hour late; the almost full Moon was straining to creep through the clouds that were unleashing their unique brand of constant drizzle.
When Ruth finally managed to emerge from Canary Wharf tube station, we wound our way through the workers running through the rain for their bus home. We were heading for a gig at the East Wintergarden, a venue I’d never heard of before let alone been to. Initially I was underwhelmed as the entrance had the same cold, slick and soulless quality that doesn’t see me visit Canary Wharf very often.
However, the venue itself was a pleasant surprise. Tables had been arranged in a “cabaret style” with round tables, topped with candles and encircled with chairs. Behind the stage was a black screen littered with pin-pricks of light mocking up stars. But the real sight was to be seen overhead, a glass ceiling revealing a canopy of lights from the surrounding office buildings, mapping out their own makeshift constellations in the cloudy, starless sky.
This was a cool place to see one of our all time favourite artists: Scott Matthews. A lanky, Ivor Novello award winning singer/songwriter from Wolverhampton, he is a troubadour in every sense of the word. He also has a special place in our affections as one of our first dates was at one of his gigs back in 2006 when we were both students at the University of Manchester.
Before Scott took to the stage, his support act – ESKA – entertained us for half an hour or so. Born in Zimbabwe, but raised in London, she is certainly a force of nature – I’m not sure I’ve ever heard a voice like hers before. Soulful yet folky, with beautiful lyrics, I couldn’t actually decide whether I liked it or not. At times she hit such high notes – think the love child of Kate Bush and Minnie Ripperton on steroids – that I gurned and physically had to shrink away from the stage. I’d be interested to listen to her studio stuff though.
After a brief hiatus, Scott Matthews tip-toed on stage. Not a natural showman, his on-stage banter is often awkward but we’ve come to love it over the 5 times we’ve seen him in London. All is forgotten when he opens his mouth to sing, though. In the school of Nick Drake and Jeff Buckley, his songs are like a warm comforting blanket to me. Dark, frank and often tackling themes of loneliness, his lyrics are beautifully poetic and his melodies haunting.
He played a mixture of old and new songs, opening with Dream Song, from his debut album Passing Stranger, before wrapping up ninety minutes later with the stunning Ballerina Lake from his latest album, What the Night Delivers. My personal highlight of the evening was his beautiful rendition of the aptly titled So Long My Moonlight (Spotify album track below). He left without playing Elusive, his biggest mainstream hit, perhaps a sign he is tiring of it being the only song to have registered in many people’s consciousness. It shouldn’t be – his entire canon is as mighty.
A class act on the top of his game. Happy to tinker with a few songs to keep them sounding fresh, this was the ultimate antidote to the encroaching darker nights and the inauspicious start to the evening. The East Wintergarden is a great venue for an intimate gig and we’ll certainly be keeping an eye on their programme of events. With a new album due out in 2013, we might even get some new songs to play at our wedding!