Gig review: 3 Ring Circus featuring Richard Hawley, John Grant and Bill Ryder-Jones at Sensoria Festival, Sheffield

Richard Hawley performing at the 3 Ring Circus in Sheffield. Picture: David Hodgson

Richard Hawley performing at the 3 Ring Circus in Sheffield. Picture: David Hodgson

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Hanging in Sheffield’s Millennium Gallery as part of a Made in Sheffield exhibition are words from Richard Hawley.

Fittingly so, as Hawley is made in Sheffield right through to his, presumably steel, core and it was he who curated the 3 Ring Circus as part of the Sensoria Festival.

The concept was simple yet effective, three artists, three venues with a car waiting outside each one. The audience stay in the venue and the artists come to them for a shortened set, the surprise being the order in which they appear.

Trafalgar Warehouse is a 1930s industrial space in the heart of the city centre, converted in keeping with the stripped down nature of the sets it was to host.

First to appear on stage was John Grant, a man whose reputation has very quickly hit a steep upward trajectory as a result of three stunning solo albums.

Opening with You Don’t Have To, the 35 minute set was a blast through six captivating songs, linked through Grant’s unique form of stage banter, apologising for his US family’s likely vote for Trump, before launching into GMF. Prior to this Grant had brought the warehouse to life with Marz, Grey Tickles Black Pressure and Sigourney Weaver.

Taking requests for the final song of the set, he closed with Glacier, the long chorus note reverberating through the vacuous venue before Grant left to a standing ovation. A truly talented performer showing once again how his songs and voice are capable of filling any sized stage.

After an interlude Bill Ryder-Jones wandered onto stage, accompanied only by his brand new Fender guitar and amp and a digital timer. The timer was important as without it, the one man stand-up show could have lasted hours.

That didn’t happen and Ryder-Jones was able to demonstrate why his solo albums have received such critical acclaim. Bravely opening with a new and as yet untitled song (well, it has a working title but that was dismissed as ‘terrible’ following the introduction), Ryder-Jones looked to his 2013 album for the next two songs, Wild Swans and Christina That’s the Saddest Thing.

Then came a Super Furry Animals cover sung in Welsh before concluding with Wild Roses and He Took You In His Arms. Ryder-Jones is an engaging and entertaining performer, with the confidence and ability to warrant the standing ovation he also received.

By now Richard Hawley’s cover had been blown, the audience knew he was about to walk onto the stage and the anticipation was palpable. The set opened with As The Dawn Breaks before quickly ticking off some of the singer’s best known tunes, Ashes on the Fire, Tonight the Streets are Ours and Standing at the Sky’s Edge.

Then came Hawley’s attempt to emulate 50 Cent through the introduction of a drum machine to provide background to Nothing Like a Friend, before Hawley jokingly requested that the crowd talk through quieter song For Your Lover Give Some Time.

Of course the benefit of being last on stage meant the Trafalgar Warehouse warranted an encore and there was no chance that Hawley was going to be allowed to leave the building without delivering one, which he duly did with Heart of Oak.

The 3 Ring Circus was an innovative and brave project and could only have worked using the calibre of artists that were performing, each one bringing something different but thoroughly engaging with a breathless audience. It was truly Made in Sheffield, honest, stripped down and heartfelt.

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