The courtyard space at the Museum of Modern Art in Oxford was the unusual, yet ideal, venue for Withered Hand’s first visit to Oxford.
Part of Rob St. John’s Adventures Close To Home series of gigs, it was one that we (MM, Popper and Banner) were looking forward to the most. We arrived to a most genteel setting of tea, cake and newspapers, a well stocked (if expensive) bar of bottled ales, and a tiny stage. It was about as intimate a setting as it is possible to imagine, with a (largely) reverential audience refreshingly bucking the normal trend of wanting to text and talk through every number being played.
Support came from the emotional and intense acoustics of Men Diamler, and despite a set fraught with hiccups – tuning troubles, a surreally off-wavelength heckler, and mobile phones going off inadvertently, there was enough there to keep the audience interested and engaged. Mixing gently, melancholic Nick Drake style folk songs with bellowed a capella protest songs and old traditional American folk, Men Diamler is anything but orthodox. Highlight for us was the epically tragic tale of Emily – the centrepiece of new album Bring On The Empty Horses. Have a listen below and check out his Bandcamp page here.
Withered Hand by contrast had no such troubles. A perfectly judged set of fragile folk songs sung in his uniquely quavering voice that held the audience from first note to last. Like another of MM faves, the marvellous Wooden Wand, Withered Hand has that all-too-rare ability to conjure up images and situations in a few, pin sharp lyrics that others would struggle to create in a whole song. There is a wonderful mix of the sublime, the ridiculous and the existentialist in the wordplay and the gently strummed instrumentation is deceptive in its apparent simplicity, yet provides the perfect backdrop for each tune.
And many were the tunes from the brilliant debut album Good News – from Cornflake to No Cigarettes to a mesmerising Religious Songs and from Providence to an audience pleasing Love In The Time Of Ecstasy, the highlights were many and the disappointments few if any – perhaps the fact he couldn’t play Hard On as the encore due to a lack of backing band.
No matter, the acclaim was generous and heartfelt, and it was clear that Withered Hand had gathered himself a devoted set of followers in Oxford – chief among them our very own Popper…
Buy Good News from here.
Download Withered Hand – Religious Songs mp3 (from Good News)
PS – The next Adventures Close to Home gig will also be at the same lovely venue on the 6th August and will feature the peculiar and surreal talents of Mary Hampton and the warm, intimate folk of Rozi Plain. Details here.