The opportunity to catch John Paul White in the intimate confines of Bush Hall where the acoustics pretty much guarantee a lovely vocal sound was one not to be missed. Obviously plenty more people were following my line of thinking as the website claimed Sold Out and there was definitely a healthy crowd on the night.
The last time John Paul White toured in the UK was four years ago as part of The Civil Wars which turned out to be an unfortunately apt name for his multi-award winning duo he formed with Joy Williams. The duo’s impressive run of success would effectively end in London at The Roundhouse in 2012. In the four years since John Paul White has turned his attention to his role as a producer and Single Lock Records, the label he founded with Ben Tanner and Will Trapp, whose releases have included the essential Dylan LeBlanc album ‘Cautionary Tale’ and St. Paul and The Broken Bones with, hopefully, many more to come. When he returned unexpectedly with a new solo album ‘Beulah’ earlier this year and announced a short run of European dates interest was very high.
John Paul White strolled on to the stage at Bush Hall resplendent in a smart dark suit, with just an acoustic guitar for company, and proceeded to demonstrate exactly what we had missed with a quite stunning set very much based in the here and now and the ‘Beulah’ album (his first solo record in nearly a decade). Opening with a gorgeous a cappella version of ‘I Remember You’ which highlighted the power, flexibility and range of his voice (older readers might recall ‘I Remember You’ was a million selling No.1 single for English yodelling country star Frank Ifield in 1962). In keeping with the overall vibe of ‘Beulah’ a solo acoustic ‘Black Leaf’ followed before Adam Morrow (of Single Lock recording act Belle Adair) joined White for ‘The Martyr’ and would add gentle vocal harmonies and electric guitar to the majority of the set that followed. The centre piece of which proved to be the one two punch of ‘Fight for You’ to which Morrow added layers of atmospheric electric guitar effects to set up a sublime take on ‘Hope I Die’.
Despite the hauntingly bleak nature of the majority of ‘Beulah’ John Paul White displayed an engagingly relaxed approach which is laced with humour “I hated country music I was into Black Sabbath” before performing a heartbreakingly beautiful take on the Dan Seals classic ‘Everything That Glitters (is not gold)’ while a stunning ‘Simple Song’ was given an additional poignancy by the way in which it was introduced to a rapt audience. Proving once again that Jeff Lynne is one of the best songwriters around a stripped back soulful ‘Can’t Get It out Of My Head’ was an inspired choice and added to the eclectic nature of the cover material chosen.
John Paul White looks to be in a very good place and seems to be really enjoying taking his music out on the road which is probably a surprise to him as, by his own admission; he didn’t have anything to say creatively for a time. I consider myself honoured to have been able to attend Bush Hall this evening and I really hope I get to see him again in such an intimate setting, but honestly I doubt it. If you are lucky enough to get the opportunity as he continues to tour ‘Beulah’ I urge you to go as you will not be disappointed. John Paul White is deserving of a much larger audience but whether he really wants that might be another question entirely.
Gig Date: 8th November 2016.