My Mum is a Meilyr Jones fan. I think she first heard him on Cerys Matthews radioshow and since then has become obsessed with his début album 2013, playing it whenever she gets the chance and to whomever will listen. It's refreshing to have your Mum still turning you on to great music long after Mums are supposed to have grown out of rock and pop in favour of whatever it is Mums are supposed to be listening to. I wouldn't know, my Mum listens to cool music and Morrissey. Lots and lots of Morrissey – but that's another story for another day. In a great twist of fortune Meilyr Jones was coming to Brighton on his UK tour, within days of Mum's birthday. So I grabbed some tickets and down we went.
We were a little late for the support band, Sam Jordan and The Dead Buoys (formerly The Dead Boys until some old defunct US punk band's fans got their knickers in a twist and social media pressured them into shoving an innocuous 'u' into their name). We walked into the closing refrain of 'Sister', which turned out to be the closing moment of their set, Sam smirking into the light, centre stage, wearing a brightly coloured Hawaiian shirt that belies the darkness in their music. I’m sure I will see them perform again.
After a short equipment shuffle Meilyr and his band of talented multi-instrumentalists bound onto the stage, fresh with an invigorating and infectious energy. They opened with the Motown beats of popular single 'How To Recognise A Work Of Art'. I had wondered, while listening to the album, how Jones was going to pull off his densely arranged orchestral pop in a small venue like The Hope, but I had nothing to fear. He has done an excellent job of distilling the songs down to their essential parts, with tune after tune hitting home with a real sense of emotional clarity. His band are an extremely talented bunch and they come across as a group of old friends on stage. For this opening number they start as a fairly standard rock three-piece (guitar, drums, bass) with added keyboard for flourishes – but this is just one of many configurations tonight. The bass guitar gets passed around like a basketball, everyone takes a turn including Meilyr, whilst a trumpet, saxophone, violin, viola and various bits of percussion come into play throughout the night. It seems impossible but they work their way through much of the album and don’t seem to miss a hook. The music itself is equally diverse, shifting from up tempo numbers, often utilising a snare-heavy Motown back-beat, to mellower, more orchestral tracks.
Meilyr Jones is one of those rare performers who seems completely at home on the stage. He comes across as himself with no attempt to become someone larger than life, because he can simultaneously be himself and larger than life, if that makes any sense! There's an intimacy to his performance and an off-the-cuff brilliance that makes tonight feel incredibly special. The magical moments just keep coming throughout the night. Jones takes to singing a capella from time to time, showing off the excellent dynamics of his group, who are able to show great restraint when it’s called upon. In talking to the audience between songs he is breathless and excited, inviting you into his world as if this is his house, but he’s an extremely welcoming host and he’s really grateful you’ve shown up to his party. He entertains us with the suggestion, never fully explained, that there’s something a little untoward about the poky dressing room at the back of the room, and it’s this sort of playful mood that energises the evening so powerfully, whether Jones is throwing shapes to a foot-stomper or charming the stars down to earth on the more emotional numbers.
At one point Meilyr takes to the keyboard, while his bandmates crouch at the sides of the stage, causing his guitar player to upset a bag of cymbals, which provokes a wave of chuckles from the bustling Wednesday night crowd. While it’s a lovely funny moment, it’s not the mood Jones needs for the more sombre ‘Love’, and he slightly stumbles over the first phrase. But rather than stop the number to start again he just paused for a beat, visibly gathering himself, and from then on the song was mesmerising. When the band had finished what they announced as their last number they didn’t leave the stage. They just sort of hung there for a moment, testing the mood as they huddled to one side, deciding what to do next. What proceeded was not one, but three extra songs, clearly they had the audience in the palm of their hands, there was still plenty of time until curfew and they seemed to be enjoying themselves as much as we were. After a more experimental song, with Meilyr and his keyboard/violin player providing much of the percussion by furiously stamping their feet on the stage, with bells strapped to their ankles, Meilyr asks the sound engineer to turn off the PA for the final song. ‘Be Soft’ was such an amazing end to an amazing note, Meilyr stepped down into the crowd, singing a mere foot and a half from my ear while his band accompany him on the violin, viola, trumpet and sax – the band working really hard to keep those orchestral instruments, designed to fill out large concert halls acoustically, as quiet as they can possibly be. So close, so intimate, I can hear the crystal clarity of Jones’ vocal tone in all its glory. His voice is very pure, with no discernible barrier between falsetto notes and deeper tones.
As we walk down the stairs to leave the venue I hear a couple of young guys behind me discussing what lighting cues might have been employed for the show – and I can’t help but feel they had slightly missed the point of what we all saw tonight. Jones and his band tailor-made their performance to the crowd tonight and their man on light and sound followed their lead wherever they decided to go. This was not a carefully choreographed show, it was far better than that, it was natural and spontaneous. It feels like Meilyr Jones is one of those artists destined to live out his star-potential in venues with ever larger stages. That made tonight all the more special, for it’s a fleeting moment when you can see a performer this great in such a close and personal setting.