Review: David Ward Maclean’s blues mix grit and tenderness

David Ward Maclean. Photographs: Darren Thackeray
12 Jul 2013 @ 10.45 am
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David Ward Maclean. Photographs: Darren Thackeray
David Ward Maclean. Photographs: Darren Thackeray

Review: David Ward Maclean
Venue: City Screen

As the sun shone down on the cobbled stones of Coney Street we made our way through the masses of Saturday drinkers to the newly refurbished City Screen. Tonight was its grand re-opening and we were met with canapés and aperitifs to celebrate.

The huge wooden doors which once separated the café bar from the cinema foyer had gone, and the place looked sleeker, modern, with an almost industrial feel to it. The lighting was ambient and the mood was one of excitement and anticipation.

In hurried David Ward Maclean, always moving hastily before his performances to ensure everything is ready and perfect, but never in too much of a hurry to stop and say hello.

Dave began the evening with a solo set, his usual combination of Scottish brazen wit and modesty gaining affinity with the audience. His custom-made Linklater guitar sounded crisp and fresh and Dave’s initial struggle with the tuning and stray strings did nothing to diminish the wonderful delivery that followed.

The first set saw songs titled House of Skin and Hunger Hill played passionately and intricately, with Dave Keegan, Steve Kendra, Tim Fox, Bradley Blackwell and Robert Loxley Hughes all lending accompaniment as Dave called them to the stage. These songs are patient, profound and something one can only pen from experience.

David Ward Maclean and Dave Keegan
David Ward Maclean and Dave Keegan

Dave’s delivery has the rawness and grit of some of the greatest bluesmen but he has a complexity and tenderness to his arrangements reminiscent of Nick Drake or John Renbourn, his hands never settling on the fret board for too long.

At times aggressive and remorseful, such as the delivery of “I don’t mind dying ‘cause I do it every day” during Brainstem Blues, a track that grapples with the id, ego and superego and their fight for supremacy. At other times hopeful and nostalgic such as The Killing’s “Rain on the roof and that song you love, even the part that I never get right… 
Giving out gifts on a sable night, with a re-born moon above…”.

One of my personal favourites, Marianas sounded the best I’ve ever heard it, save for some odd nights at Loxley’s Old Starre Inne open mic nights (now at The Graduate, every Thursday from 9pm).

Marianas’ title is taken from the Marianas Trench in the Pacific, the deepest part of the world’s oceans where Dave hollers “Drop me slow” where the fish will “pick my bones until they shine”. A slow, affecting blues number, as dark and deep as its namesake.

This incredible sound was in no small part down to soundman John Massey who got everything perfect, from Dave Keegan’s seamless harmonies to the haunting reverb on Tim’s harmonica during the mind-breaking Lonestar Trilogy, three songs rarely performed consecutively in one performance.

The second set saw everyone take to the stage including Dave Hartley on drums and Simon Snaize on lead guitar, the jet lag from his recent journey back from the US having no impact whatsoever on his impeccable delivery.

Virginie was the highlight of the evening, a woeful tale of lost love with a delicate melody which jumps back and forth from Southern France to the River Ouse – “Came all the way from Montpellier to sit down by another stinking river /Where party time is anytime, it’s “back to mine” and then it’s “yeah, whatever…”. Dave Keegan’s accompanying harmony could not have been delivered any better and we hung on every word.

Steve Kendra’s ghostly use of the E-bow during Privilege was just that, as him and Dave cried “Driving… driving… “, the song slowly surrendered and seemed to fade away, leaving behind imagery of two companions sharing a long drive and an unshakable friendship.

The evening wound to close at around 11pm with all musicians on stage playing their hearts out, with a clear love for what they do and a real respect for David Ward Maclean and his music.

Affectionately and jokingly referred to by Dave as the ’York Mariachi Scratch Band’ they’re a gathering of friends and musical companions who, when their schedules allow, get together in one place. When their paths align it’s a real pleasure to behold. Book your tickets for the Winter Solstice!