The evening at the Bullingdon was to begin in an unexpected way, the support artist Paul Cauthen casually appeared by the side of the stage with his guitar case about thirty seconds before he was due to start and then unassumingly stepped towards the microphone to start the set. It was only when he started to sing that the audience really had to pay attention, a voice that boomed so loud he barely needed a microphone and as he worked his way through his set he seemed to physically suck the audience towards him such was the effect he had.
Songs like “I’ll Be The One” were like being witness to a fusion of Johnny Cash and Roy Orbison in one incarnation. The set was a mixture of new songs and some from his debut album “My Gospel”, an apt title as it was like being at a sermon, and it was no surprise when he later said that his vocal style came from a family background in the preaching profession. Songs like “The Only One Hurt Is Me” were a fantastic example of the counterpoint between gentle playing and the huge vocal delivery. Another excellent song was “Hanging Out On The Line” this was the one that had the audience moving forward in disbelief at what they were seeing. Other excellent moments included a new song possibly called “A Man With Some Money And A Big Last Name” and another called “To Whom Do you Belong?”.
Paul had a generous twelve song support slot but no-one was rushing him off stage, the penultimate song “My Gospel” was breath taking, and was his family speaking through him in song. I can honestly say that his style and volume is like nothing these shores have ever seen before!
The last time Andrew Combs played The Bullingdon it was to about a crowd half as big as tonights and was quite possibly one of the events of 2015. He subsequently went on to open the Sunday night at C2C where he stole the show and had a huge crowd snaking around the O2 to meet him. Following on from the man mountain of sound, he and his 3 piece band decided to open with one of the quieter songs from his new release “Canyons Of My Mind”, “Rose Coloured Blues”. Dressed in a snazzy suit with his laid back laconic style this was to be the start of another great Oxford Performance.
It is such a relief to hear a country singer with something to actually say, “Dirty Rain” his “tree hugging song” came with a beautifully gentle delivery, and while he could not recreate the strings of the recorded version it was extremely effective. For those worried that the evening was going to be to quiet there was no need to worry as the band then launched into “All These Dreams” the title track of his last album. The set was nearly a perfect blend of all that was fantastic about the last two albums and was intensely enjoyable.
The joy of watching Andrew is that he is at ease with a band as he is playing solo, and so when they left the stage after the opening seven songs there was no fear that standards would slip. If anything the epic “Month Of Bad Habits” and “Rainy Day Song” benefitted from the extra clarity on the vocals. As the band returned their role became more prominent, with “Foolin’” leading into “Heart Of Wonder” which saw some great guitar work from Jerry Bernhardt
For the older fans, there was a track from the early ep “Too Stoned Too Cry” and the spelling song “Emily” this time sung directly to a real Emily, who did not mind that it did not paint her namesake in a very good light. The beauty of “Suwannee County”, led into a song dedicated to Mr Trump “Bourgeois King” which was an absolute tour de force, that brought the main set to an end. The encore was a solo performance of the “creepy” song, “Hazel”.
Five days later, it was time to decamp to The Borderline for second helpings.
For Paul it was to be his final gig on the tour and initially things did not start well. Although it sounded fine to us he was clearly troubled by the sound coming out of his monitors and for the first few songs he was glaring daggers at the sound man. Once again, his sonic boom of a voice surprised one and all and once settled he gave another fantastic performance. Highlights this time round were “Little Son” and once again “To Whom Do You Belong”. His set was quite different from Oxford, with even more new songs suggesting that a follow up album will be coming soon. His “Guinness affected” set drew huge applause and raised some smiles with his talk about getting to grips with English coins.
As #TeamW21 turned up at the Borderline, about 10 minutes before doors opening, things were a little worrying as we were at the front, however by the time Andrew Combs took to the stage the Borderline was respectfully full. Although the sound at the Bullingdon had been perfectly fine, the Borderline managed to capture Jerry Bernhardt’s guitar perfectly and he was almost as much as star on the night as the main man.
Set wise things were reasonably similar with the set divided into three, the front third predominantly the quieter songs from “Canyons Of My Mind”, with the middle section being a solo slot, while for the final third Andrew strapped on his white electric guitar to make some noise. By his own admission tonight’s performance was in association with “cough medicine and whisky” though once again all sounded fine from our side of the stage.
There were a couple of changes from the Bullingdon set, a #TeamW
21 request via twitter meant that there was an appearance for “Strange Bird” during the solo slot, which also saw “ A Month Of Bad Habits” met with a loud cry from the audience of “OUTSTANDING”, which brought a huge smile from Andrew. In fairness, he was absolutely right, it was an outstanding performance of an outstanding song that silenced The Borderline as they hung on every word. The only other difference in material was an appearance of the new single “Blood Hunters”. As with the Bullingdon “Emily” was sung with gusto by the audience, and the closing “Bourgeois King” was a sonic masterpiece. The encore was once again “Hazel” though this time while Andrew sang the rest of the band gathered on stage along with Paul Cauthen to sing backing vocals, while towards the end bass player Charlie Whitten gave a perfect whistling solo.Two quite spellbinding performances from Andrew Combs. quite possibly the most interesting and innovative performer around at the moment – catch him while you can.