LIVE REVIEW: Bill Wells & Aidan Moffat @ Mining Institute, Newcastle (28.5.15) | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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As befits the style of an Aidan Moffat song, this piece is to be read slowly in a lugubrious Glaswegian accent.

I stride up the wide marble staircase and pull the brass handle on one of the narrow doors. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a show in a venue as historic as this. The fading sunlight filters through a towering stained glass arch and illuminates bigger-than-lifesize statues and faded oil paintings of mining luminaries long since dead. I buy a bottle of mass-produced real ale and appropriate the vacant seat at the end of a row of four. The seat next to me is occupied by a girl, with her mother next to her, and what I presume is her brother on the farthest one. If it’s her boyfriend then they’ve had a big falling out.

The main act is a grumpy early-middle-aged Glaswegian who paints word poems about growing older, mostly disgracefully, and then feeling guilty about it. He starts to sing about dirty sex with easy women in the alleyways behind nightclubs, and I feel awkward on behalf of the girl sat next to me. I wonder whether it’s the sign of a repressed upbringing that means one can’t enjoy a piece of explicit art in the company of one’s parents, or whether that tang of discomfort is the result of a long period of amygdalic evolution that shouldn’t be ignored. The music gives me no clue.

Neither of them show any tangible emotion, save from clapping politely when the song has finished its sordid business. But that could be as much in thanks that it’s over than any artistic appreciation. The man on stage takes deep gulps from more than one can of Stella with the thirst of a lapsing alcoholic. The flask of Jura in my pocket is tribute-in-liquor to the Scottishness of the night, and I take a draught now and again when I feel the need to bring myself closer to the characters in the songs; that in some way my bloodstream might become Scottish, just for a little while, to complement what’s happening to my ears and brain.

Perhaps related to his Stella consumption, Aidan Moffat (for it is he) forgets his lines more than once and has to restart the songs. If I didn’t know better I’d think it was all just a ruse so he can make self-deprecating witticisms about himself and get the audience even more onside. But no, on balance it’s just the drink. The band are superb: muted trumpet, tuba, plucked double bass and Bill Wells’ dark, jazzy piano play the sidekick to Moffat’s mostly-spoken delivery. Every once in a while the gods of music throw up a character like Moffat – someone who lives life like it should be lived: a step removed from Begbie and Renton, but only a step – never the ringleader of a bar brawl, but at the bar, taking notes. And he makes beautiful music about it, vignettes of events that polite society would rather didn’t happen, but that describe the human condition in ways with which imagination simply cannot compete.

It’s his burden that he has to live this life, but I suspect he wouldn’t want it any other way. In his real-life tales of waking up with hangovers, of taking drugs (never too many, mind, but enough to feel the ensuing blackness), of regretful sex, he shares a virtual stage with Cocker, Turner, Cash, and Morrison, to name but a few. That his music doesn’t need the distracting crash of a drum kit or a Marshall amp to make its point simply allows one to descend deeper into the sordid webs of life he weaves. Given that quality of the second album of this project, The Most Important Place In The World, equals or betters the first in every regard, indicates that Moffat is still living his life within boundaries of his own choosing, rather than those that society would presume to impose upon him. Long may that continue.

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