Review: John Bramwell from I Am Kloot

One of our finest songwriters… John Bramwell. Photographs: Duncan Lomax, Ravage Productions
One of our finest songwriters… John Bramwell. Photographs: Duncan Lomax, Ravage Productions

Review: John Bramwell
Venue: National Centre for Early Music, April 4

Despite being Mercury-nominated, and having had albums produced by Guy Garvey of Elbow, I Am Kloot have so far managed to evade the break that will propel them firmly into top-flight national recognition.

Like Elbow, they hail from Manchester, and theirs has also been a long journey, with eight albums released to date.

I Am Kloot gig relentlessly, but tonight it falls to singer-songwriter John Bramwell to spread the Kloot word on this solo tour.

The gig is put on courtesy of The Duchess who have recognised that Bramwell’s solo performance deserves a hushed audience and inspiring surroundings, so a candle-lit National Centre for Early Music is a great choice, and the overall feel is more like a night at the theatre than a gig.

The night starts with support act Dave Fidler who overcomes some technical abilities to warm the audience up with some amazing guitar playing and a short but interesting set that ranges from Dylan-esque ballads, to acoustic blues.

When Bramwell takes to the stage with guitar in one hand and a pint in the other, he’s greeted with warm applause from an audience that clearly know him well, and it seems tonight he will be preaching to the converted.

He has an ungainly stage presence – he plays his guitar without the aid of a strap, improvising by propping his right leg up on something, and I watch with a constant fear that he’s either going to drop the guitar, or his back will give up.

Tonight he appears to be using a box of CDs as his support, but elsewhere I’ve seen him use a beer crate, a guitar case, and once at Fibbers, a chair that gradually slid its way off stage, leaving our hero straddling the stage like a baby giraffe trying to stand for the first time.

(Mind you, that might also have been down to the several pints of Guinness he had on stage that night).

Support act Dave Fidler
Support act Dave Fidler
In the special acoustics of the National Centre For Early Music, York
In the special acoustics of the National Centre For Early Music, York

He jokes with the audience about being “edgy” and “loose”, but fortunately, he’s neither, and within seconds of starting the opening song, the audience is completely silent and are mouthing the words to singles and album tracks alike.

The two sets (either side of a beer break) draw on I Am Kloot material old and new, and their extensive back catalogue is explored and reworked. Between songs, he entertains with stories and jokes, drinks his pint and raises a toast to the crowd politely: “Cheers Everybody”.

Crowd favourites are the sing along Northern Skies and Some Better Day, but it’s the trademark melancholy songs that really hit home in this environment. Same Deep Water As Me is simply beautiful and ?I Still Do? sounds like it was written to be sung here.

There’s a certain frequency in the room – a reverb that makes certain notes linger longer. Bramwell notices it and uses it to full effect, a wry smile appearing on his face whenever he’s able to manipulate the acoustics of the NCEM to enhance his songs.

After the show, Bramwell signs CDs and chats to fans, each of which seem to have stories about how many times they’ve seen him perform over the years. He’s grateful for the support and stays until the last of them leaves, then happily poses for photographs and a chat.

After so many years together, I Am Kloot must be wondering if they’ll ever get to step up to the next level, but even if they don’t, we will have in Bramwell, one of the finest songwriters this country has produced, and gigs like tonight show that all he needs is a guitar, a pint and a box to stand on, to capture an audience.

Bramwell has described I Am Kloot in the past as a “drinking band”, and tonight’s set included a few Kloot songs that are centred around long days and nights propping up bars, so maybe I Am Kloot should follow in the footsteps of Elbow, Ed Harcourt and a few others, and consider bringing out their own beer.

There’s a possibility that John might just drink it all though…