Had you entered the Trinity Centre towards the end of Will Varley's opening song “As For My Soul” and witnessed the level of crowd engagement in its singalong section, you could have been forgiven for thinking you had mistimed your evening and arrived for the final encore. Having steadily built up a fanbase over years of Bristol shows, the affection that the crowd have for Varley is palpable from the off – and the show is punctuated with genuine expressions of thanks for the continued support.
This current tour is notable as Will's first with a band, and with Frank Turner being an early champion of his music comparisons between the trajectories of the two are inevitable. The comparison is certainly valid, but the difference in the songwriting voices of Will and Frank ensures sufficient distance is maintained between the two acts.
In my opinion, Will's greatest weapon has always been his poignant lyricism, which frequently returns to ideas about time passing and more cosmic ideas about how meaning can be found despite this transience. “Until The Grass Gets Greener” ends with the molecules of two long dead lovers one day reforming to rest side by side for eternity as stones on a distant beach - and early in the set during “From Halcyon”, Varley sings “Someday soon I'll be a photograph/underneath my grandson's bed/but I heard there's a universe somewhere/where this song, wasn't written, yet...."
The inclusion of the band allows for the reworking of old material, laying the ground for early set highlight “The Man Who Fell To Earth”, where the additional instruments gradually build to a crescendo at the song's finish. Later in the set the lead guitar in new song “The Postman” creates an ethereal Sigur Ros-esque sound, which is distinct from Varley's folk roots and an exciting use of the additional players.
New song “Spirit of Minnie” slows the set down slightly before old favourite “I Got This Email” receives a strong reaction, a song where the humour found in Varley's crowd-work is allowed to step to the fore. This makes for a nice change of tone, with the lyrics telling a surreal story in which the entire country is suckered into an email scam, culminating in the prime minister singing from the steps of Downing Street “Just give him all our bank details and he'll make us all millionaires!”
Also worth highlighting are support act Ida Mae, a husband and wife duo who delivered such a confident performance that it was shocking to hear that they have still yet to release an album. I suspect that these two won't be found in support slots for very long.
It is an exciting time for Varley; this is his biggest UK tour to date and he takes the show as an opportunity to announce that he and his wife of 3 weeks are expecting their first child. The news makes for a moving performance of “King For a King”, with Varley visibly emotional as he begins the section of the song about parenthood, “six seconds old, in the arms of your lover/six weeks later, she starts to see colour/and you swear that no harm, will come to her or her mother."
Following this, the band come back onstage for final song “Seize The Night”, which successfully supplants longtime show-closer “King For a King” to send the crowd home happy, old fans and new.
Photography: Dan Hess