It’s a bleak Thursday evening and the ‘beast from the East’ is delivering a harsh instruction on the realities of a Russian winter. Hard winds scour Kings Cross, driving commuters homeward and scabbing the city with a crust of dirty snow. The weather is so bad that even the tabloid press is showing rare concern for the homeless lest they die untidily in shop doorways.
It is a night when most people with a modest sense of personal comfort would stay firmly indoors and yet a sizeable crowd has assembled in the darkened basement of the Harrison to hear Steve Dagleish, possibly one of the best singer songwriters in the circuit.
In estate agent’s terms the Harrison could be described as ‘bijou’ – dark and velvet draped, it is larger than a living room and smaller than Cowell’s ego. It is the ideal setting for Dagleish’s brand of intimate folk-blues which is the best antidote I know to manufactured pop drivel – (think ‘proper home cooking’ compared to ‘KFC’).
Dagleish’s performance style is intimate – we feel like we are being welcomed into his home. A musician who carries John Martyn in one hand and Nick Drake in the other, it would be entirely possible to just let the tunes flow over you and just enjoy his delicate blues style. But the charm is a disguise, and his songs, like smiling assassins, carry razors in their shoes.
The quality of music belies deceptive lyrics that touch on sensitive subjects. Whether it is Steve’s reflections on religion in ‘Old Gabriel’s Horn’, alienation and regret in ‘Only losers write on bridges’ or a simple homage to folk legend Nick Drake in ‘Looking for the River Man’, his lyrics are warming and sad, like chicken soup for the soul.
Joined for a second set by Carolyn Locher on vocals and Ben Richardson on guitar the music lifts and the audience basks in the shared pleasure of rare musicianship. Simply put, Steve Dagleish is one of the best musicians in London at the moment and an evening with Steve is worth any snowy hardships you have to face to get there.
Outside, the beast still howls, the wind still bites and the homeless still shiver in doorways. The world has not changed appreciably but now we carry Steve’s songs home with us and they make us feel better. And isn’t that what you really need from a gig?