Singer-somgwriter Ruston Kelly is in London promoting his excellent debut album ‘Dying Star’ with a low key show at the bijou Slaughtered Lamb. Needless to say the gig is sold-out and it’s pretty obvious the crowd are expecting good things long before Kelly ambles on stage.
Ruston Kelly does relaxed beautifully. Under stage lights, in the small basement venue, that jumper probably wasn’t the ideal choice of attire as those lights do look a little bright but Kelly eases into the one-two punch of ‘Cover My Tracks’ and ‘Mockingbird’ and we’re obviously in for a good night. With a bottle of water and a, much larger, glass of red wine for sustenance Kelly is happy to take requests and interacts regularly with the audience (an audience that is respectfully quiet in all the right places and very loud in all the others). Right from the off you can see that Ruston Kelly feels at home, the crowd are in his corner and he can feel it. He says hello individually to members of the crowd, it’s a small venue so they’re pretty close, and asks for requests which he fends off good naturedly “‘Poison’ well maybe, but it’s really kinda long (laughs)” or stores them in the memory for later in the set.
A chat about the geographical location of the venue starts a good-natured debate, one audience member suggests Kings X which is greeted with much derision from the locals (Kings X is four stops on the tube, so effectively a different planet as far as the locals are concerned). Kelly and his manager James had checked out all the bars in Shoreditch the previous day so he’s quickly getting the hang of things. He’s also got a story or three to tell, a long running will he/won’t he use one of my songs with Kenny Chesney is recounted with refreshing candour and ends on an X-rated note.
Performing solo, with just guitar and harmonica for the majority of the set, Kelly reels off a run of songs from ‘Dying Star’ and beyond that exhibit a sincerity so often missing from modern country records. ‘Dying Star’ is a fantastic record and the songs are equally impressive whatever the approach. Kelly switches to piano mid-set for a wonderfully stripped down take on ‘Big Brown Bus’ and returns to dark places for the stark ‘Morphine’ which relates his well-documented past issues. He’ll return to the keys to perform a request for ‘1000 Graves’ if we don’t mind a different take on the song. We don’t… and it’s fantastic.
Kelly Ruston has his demons in the rear-view and a fantastic record in the can. When married with his relaxed stage persona and the ability to connect with an audience I’ve a feeling that Ruston Kelly’s career can be whatever he wants it to be. Luckily for UK fans he’ll be back opening for The Wandering Hearts in late 2018. Trust me when I say you’ll want to get along to a show.
A quick shout out for this evening’s opening act Ferris & Sylvester. The Streatham duo (which explains how the geographical theme for the night got started) of Issy Ferris and Archie Sylvester surprised me as I was expecting folky sounds, which they delivered along with something a good deal louder. The duo plugged in and went full on electric blues with Issy handling bass duties and Archie electric guitars. Throw in a kick-drum and impressive vocal harmonies, which bring their 60’s folk influences to the fore and you’ve a really cool combination. Highlights of their set included ‘Better In Yellow’ from their ‘Made In Streatham’ EP and a really terrific extended blues workout ‘Sickness’ which gave Archie room to display his slide guitar skills and embark on an extended solo. I look forward to checking out Ferris & Sylvester again soon.