Review: Bonnie Prince Billy @ Royal Festival Hall, April 20th.


mp3: Bonnie Prince Billy – Strange Form Of Life

mp3: Johnny Cash & Bonnie Prince Billy – I See A Darkness

Bonnie Prince Billy (a.k.a. Will Oldham) is folk royalty in more than just name these days. Need evidence? Johnny Cash chose to cover Bonnie’s classic ‘I See A Darkness’ from the album of the same name, performing a duet with Bonnie himself. So it’s fitting that this evening he gets to perform in the Southbank’s prestigious Royal Festival Hall overlooking the river Thames.

Tonight’s concert is to promote the new Bonnie Prince Billy album ‘Beware’ which has received the usual string of 3 and 4 star ratings across the board from music magazines and taste-makers alike. Personally, as ever I like the songs and Bonnie’s masterful way with lyrics is evidently still there but the choice of instrumentation isn’t to my taste. Too much fiddling about and pedestrian double bass and I know it’s sacrilege but not even the drumming of legendary Jim White does it for me this time. Sure the guy can play but it’s the choice of rhythm that’s amiss. It’s all a bit too countrified for me. One exception that springs to mind however is ‘My Life’s Work’ with Will’s excellent vocals soaring high.

I can’t help but feel that although Bonnie’s new lady friend (anyone have a name?) may be handy with a fiddle and she evidently has a good voice when performing solo parts but when accompanying Bonnie tonight the dynamic doesn’t feel right to me. Dawn McCarthy (who features on 2007’s ‘The Letting Go’ album) was the last female counterpart I saw live with Bonnie the partnership worked far better.

The man himself cannot be faulted for performance. Although I’ve seen him live a few times now I’m still amazed by the richness and depth of his trademark wail and the emotion of his soft whispers. On the old material like the previously mentioned ‘I See A Darkness’ and ‘Another Day Full Of Dread’ I’m in heaven. There aren’t many artists who get into the spirit of their songs like Bonnie does. When he sings you can see the words reflected in the lines on his animated, ageing face. He practically climbs through some of the songs, feet and arms bending and extending with each verse. It’s a sight to behold.
Each song tonight is followed by rapturous applause. If the audience share my reservations about the direction of the new material and the inevitable effect it has had on the old songs live then they seem to be keeping it to themselves. But then like I said earlier, Bonnie is royalty these days, and few dare turn their back on royalty.

Don’t get me wrong I still love Bonnie Prince Billy and am going to give the new album more time to settle on me but do you know what I really crave? Bonnie with a fine voiced companion, a guitar and nothing else. For me that would be one of the best gigs ever.


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