T E Morris / Thomas Ragsdale / Fran Minnie / Piles of Clothes

Posted: 12 December 2015 in Live

Fox & Newt, Leeds, 8th December 2015

Christopher Nosnibor

In many ways, Tom Morris is the man who got me into reviewing again after some years out, and I’ve been a follower of Her Name is Calla’s career since their 2006 tour with I Like Trains (or, indeed iLiKETRAiNS as they were then). However, despite having also followed Tom’s solo career, which has seen him release a prodigious volume of material under the name T E Morris (and not only does this material include albums and Eps, but a film score, a novel, and accompanying soundtrack), I had yet to witness one of his solo shows. It would have therefore been criminal to have missed his last one.

Having only recently been introduced to the work of Bad Owl, I’ve swiftly learned the duo behind the name have a knack for booking and promoting gigs that not only feature high-quality lineups, but also feel more like proper events than run-of-the-mill gigs, and tonight is no exception. The Christmas present included in the £5 ticket price is a perfect example. It feels like a DVD…

The Fox & Newt is a new venue to me, and it’s a new favourite immediately on arrival: the beer, the bar staff, the venue space, the sound… It’s hard to fault the place.

And so I’m settled at a table in a nice spot for the set of Andy Crowder, performing as Piles of Clothes. It’s an enjoyable, unprentious acoustic set consisting of nice, introspective and metaphor-laden songs, delivered with self-effacing humour.

Fran Minney is immediately notable for her hair, but this is soon overshadowed by her reflective, personal songs, and above all, her quite outstandingly powerful voice. Hers is a style built on contrast, as delicate, reflective lyrics and delicate- and also dynamic –guitar playing provide the vehicle for her strong vocals. If I were to be critical, I’d say that the notes-per-bar quota stretches a little too readily into territory that is, at times, a bit Christina, but her voice is also noteworthy for its deeper tones and some grit and, truth bee told, belting rock leanings. I found myself torn. Honest, sincere, for sure, and with clear commercial potential, I couldn’t help but feel if this unpolished talent could be a shade ‘X-Factor’. Many would, of course, disagree. No matter, she has a charming, down-to-earth demeanour, some nice tunes, a strong voice, and a lot going for her.

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Fran Minney

Thomas Ragsdale was one of the main reasons for turning up tonight. While his set effectively draws on the mood and fabric of his recordings, he’s by no means simply ‘playing the songs’ from his releases to date. Given that his solo work has been represented by a pair of soundtracks, it’s fitting that there are strong filmic qualities to the music of his live sets. What’s perhaps more surprising is that the visuals which accompany the performance are little more than projected patterns of light. And yet it works well, because too much by way of moving pictures or other visual stimulus, would likely detract from the music.

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Thomas Ragsdale

As it is, Ragsdale’s crackle-soaked evocations, paired with retina-twitching, flickering visuals resonate within the subconscious, building layers which unfurl. Before he begins, he describes what will follow as ‘grim’, but this is rather disingenuous. The shadows and darkness are interspersed with moments of almost overwhelming grace and irrepressible beauty as he builds the set towards a climax where The Cure meet Tim Hecker.

Tom Morris took a gamble with his t-shirt, but no-one’s here to check his sartorial choices. They’re here to hear his songs; those hushed, contemplative acoustic songs which have stood apart from his work with Her Name is Calla, and he opens the set with ‘Survivor Guilt’ from his second EP, 2011’s ‘An Ocean is Enough to Love’.

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T E Morris

For all of the anguish and the portent the songs are imbued with, and the fact they are by turned gloomy and tinged with despair, there’s beauty and light, too. Moreover, Tom’s performance is completely without pretence. He’s humble, and disarmingly open. He talks about the difficult personal circumstances that compelled him to perform solo in the first place, his lack of ability as a pianist, and his love of Lego. As an artist, Morris very much wears his heart on his sleeve, although combines this with more oblique lyrical turns and some magnificently understated guitar playing.

‘Long Distance Runner’, which was originally recorded as a Her Name is Calla track and released on the ridiculously limited cassette which accompanied some copies of The Heritage also serve to remind that Morris has a great voice, capable of hitting unexpected high notes to haunting effect.

Tom’s acoustic guitar is augmented by the violin of HNIC’s Sophie Green for a couple of songs mid-set, as well as the additional vocals of Kerry Ramsey, one half of the Bad Owl setup. Her delicate vocals are well-suited to both the material and Morris’ voice, and varying the arrangements in this way sees the hour-long set pass far too quickly.

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T E Morris

‘I Am Gone, I Am Gone, I Am Gone’ is hushed, low, moody, and the set’s closer, ‘Your Life in Pictures’ is a tense epic that builds and burns with the drama of Her Name is Calla at their best. It’s a powerful sign off, although it’s hard to feel too distraught on leaving the venue. It’s been a celebration of a significant period of Tom Morris’ musical career, with many familiar and friendly faces in attendance. More than that, the knowledge that he’ll be focusing his creative powers exclusively on Her Name is Calla, who have been finding outstanding form of late, gives reason to look to the future with anticipation.

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