Gig review: Black aka Colin Vearncombe at Korks, Otley

Black aka Colin Vearncombe
Black aka Colin Vearncombe
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It was back in 1987 that Black (aka Liverpudlian Colin Vearncombe) – already with one failed record deal behind him – struck gold with his song Wonderful Life. It hit the dizzy heights of number three in the UK singles chart, at a time when those figures mattered, racked up 1.5 million sales worldwide, and set him up for a music career that still finds him making music and playing to eager fans today.

As is the modern way, the recording of his freshly released new album, Blind Faith, was fan-funded and it seems to go all out to please them, with a focus on the smart, considered, but still remarkably fresh-sounding, pop that launched Vearncombe in the first place.

Always a serious songsmith, his songs are full of clever chord progressions and melodies, with his trademark mellifluous voice delivering poetic and playful lyrics that

are a devilish blend of bruised romanticism, twinkly-eyed seductiveness and yearning melancholy.

This was the first night of the UK tour and Vearncombe admitted to some first night nerves, but, bar unrelated issues with a misbehaving amplifier and one curious episode where he had to stop a song halfway through because he’d been spooked by the sensation that someone was kicking his guitar stool (there was no-one near him on stage!), they were not in evidence in an assured performance that focussed heavily, but far from exclusively, on the new album.

With just Vearncombe and long-time friend and writing partner Calum MacColl on stage, they delivered a stripped back yet melodically rich sound that made much of the sweet interplay between their two guitars, Vearncombe’s smoky croon and MacColl’s poised backing vocals and harmonies.

They opened with the heartfelt Never More Alive from Vearncombe’s second solo studio album, 2000’s Water On Snow, and California from 2009’s Water On Stone, before tackling the new album’s complex opening track, The Love Show, which hit home despite being shorn of the lavish string arrangement that it boasts on record.

Further highlights were the bluesy favourite Cold Chicken Skin, new song Ashes of Angels, an arresting version of 1987 hit Sweetest Smile and Her Coat and No Knickers from 2005’s Between Two Churches.

Returning to the new album, we were treated to the the delightful Sleep Together and the Sondheim-like drama of Sunflower, before a return to Water On Snow for the cheeky So Cool and a rendition of the title track that saw MacColl delving deep into his effects pedals to deliver atmospheric washes of sound beneath haunting vocal melodies that seemed to embrace both Arabic and Celtic influences.

Charmingly avoiding any leaving-the-stage-to-instigate-pre-encore-applause antics, Vearncombe simply posed the rhetorical question, “Do you want to hear some more songs?” before launching into Fly Up To The Moon from 1991 album Black and deliciously wistful new song Beautiful.

Then, bravely taking centre stage, he delivered an unaccompanied, unamplified rendition of Wonderful Life, the audience joining in with the chorus and bringing the show to its bittersweet conclusion.

It’d be wonderful if Black’s new album could find him new fans and bring old ones who’ve fallen by the wayside back into the fold. It certainly deserves to. Check it out on his website www.colinvearncombe.com/music/blind-faith/

Gig date: April 16