LIVE REVIEW: Nev Clay, Laurie Shepherd, Claire Welford @ Bobik’s, Newcastle (23.08.20) | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image: Nev Clay by Ali Welford

A gig! An actual real-life gig! Remember how those felt?

It’s 163 days since Bobik’s last hosted such an event, and in a sense it’s fitting that Nev Clay and Laurie Shepherd – the pair who spearheaded the venue’s inaugural night last July – are also present for this afternoon’s de-facto reopening. Of course, this is still some way from a return to normality. Face coverings are mandatory, and a capacity audience of 20 is seated in socially distant bubbles, while the three solo performers are each assigned their own mic and corner of the stage. And yet, it’s not these safety measures, but rather the small things which feel most unusual – leaving the house with an express motive; seeing familiar faces; applauding for a sincere, non-state sanctioned purpose.

In a sense, the biggest compliment which can be paid is that once opener Claire Welford begins playing, this feels more or less like your typical acoustic gig. While many may by now recognise her as the spirited co-vocalist of Bad Amputee, this afternoon the songwriter performs cuts from her own Yakka Doon project, and for all her forecasts of darkness the message which shines through is one of hope. Nowhere is this more explicit than her set’s two bookends: Farewell Morgy Hill sets the tone assuredly with its conviction that “it’ll all be fine by the passage of time,” while the poignant Golden Plover seeks solace and inspiration from the natural world in times of hardship.

Nature likewise forms the bedrock of Laurie Shepherd’s songs, beautifully complimenting the streams of activism – both past and present – infused throughout. Performed via handclaps and the clops of her own feet, Footsteps is an impassioned ode to the suffragette movement, elevated by Shepherd’s wondrously pure vocal delivery. Spark and standout number Home, meanwhile, strike contemporary chords, acclaiming both the scope and spectacle of Earth’s treasures and those fighting and sacrificing in order to preserve them. It’s a blissful half-hour – not least as it recalls in me the glow of seeing and loving a previously unknown artist for the first time. She’s back at Bobik’s on Sunday 25th October to launch her debut album, Moon Moves The Sea. Capacity will inevitably be limited, and I can’t be alone in having been coaxed by this showing.

By contrast, I – along, presumably, with everybody else present – am already well versed in the routines of a Nev Clay gig. As such, the thrill here is that of familiarity; of being reacquainted with his characteristic brand of soft-spoken storytelling, amiable humour and mid-song conversation. Packed with all the warmth, wit and compassion we’ve come to love over the years, it’s the everyday minutiae which makes songs like Gracious In Defeat so endearing – and after months of isolation, ennui and bitterness it’s no exaggeration to say they’ve never been more beguiling. Eschewing the universal in favour of the microscopic, Clay’s tales are veritable thrillers amidst the monotony of 2020; a friendly, colloquial welcome as we tip-toe our way back to the weird and wonderful world of live music.

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