The new Hope & Ruin is an absolute pleasure. The venue has been converted into a proper rock club, with the bar moved back to make room for bigger audiences. The air conditioning situation has been sorted out which used to make the venue an unbearable sauna much of the time. Gone too is the appalling sound system which used to break down with annoying regularity. Tonight the sound is immaculate and makes this intimate audience with one of Scotland’s finest troubadours a real treat.
Opening act Heliopause is one Richard Davis, an excellent singer songwriter from Belfast but now living in Brighton. He has a number of fine songs available for free on Bandcamp and a new album in the making. Tonight Davis is joined by a sympathetic drummer on stage, and his ambient passionate guitar-led songs remind us of Elliott Smith.
Second on the bill is Stevie Jones, in a solo version of his Sound Of Yell vision, released on Chemikal Underground. He gives us a mesmerising intimate set of guitar riffs accompanied by an array of echoing sounds and murmuring vibrations, along with Alasdair Roberts on an original hurdy-gurdy for two songs.
Then comes the man himself, with a solo set of songs taken mostly from his self-titled album released in January. This is a challenge for some of the audience as without the backing of his band Al comes across a little like a traditional Highland folk purist. In fact these new songs sound like an amazing collection, overflowing with lyrical beauty and they’re entertaining too. There’s some lighter relief when Stevie Jones repays the favour and joins in on bass, providing a little more of the warmth and rhythm we see in Roberts’ full band performances.
Roberts ends with an encore of a song once played by his father, also an eminent Scottish folk musician. Wherever he got it from, the younger Roberts is an incredible songwriter and performer, well worth catching up close in this sort of intimate space.
The Hope & Ruin, Saturday 14th March 2015
Words and photos by Jon Southcoasting