There are those who write for mainstream publications, confident in the knowledge that, from their cushy London offices, they totally understand Manchester’s music scene because they bought a Smiths best of before it was cool to do so.
Yet ask them who John Bramwell
is, and watch their eyes glaze over. Which, it must be said, is downright criminal. For Bramwell has spent the last fifteen years - technically closer to twenty-five since his blistering debut as Johnny Dangerously - distilling the glittering vitality and gloom of the downtrodden that make up the dichotomy of Manchester. Truly, perhaps, he is the city's most vital lyrical poet.
This year, he breaks with a tradition going back several of them, and spends Valentine’s weekend not in the town which made his name, but with a brief residency at the Half Moon in Putney, South London.
The crowd here are tamer than those up north: more willing to stop chatting and listen. The handful of northern voices in the crowd are oddly comforting when you can hear a pin-drop during quieter moments. Down in London, it seems, Bramwell is finally getting the respect he deserves, even if his caustic wit is on rapid fire ascension this evening.
That this has come due to his band, I Am Kloot
, renewing their collaboration with Bury’s Guy Garvey and Craig Potter, better known as two fifths of arena conquering behemoths Elbow, is perhaps a necessary evil. Their last two albums - produced by Garvey & Potter but, as always, written entirely by John's hand - saw I Am Kloot achieve genuine chart success, even if it has taken them out of smaller venues like this for the best part of three years.
Bramwell, then, has decided to go back to basics. Stripped of the increasingly grandiose arrangements of recent material, his songs of drinking and disaster are dialled down, yet as heartfelt as the day he wrote them. Perhaps that’s how they should always be played, or perhaps this is just a stop-gap before his next project layers his material with even more strings and brass elements, befitting the sweeping narratives he creates.
Either way, at last, people are listening, and maybe those people with Morrissey crushes will learn a bit about the haunting beauty of one of the North’s true greats into the bargain. If nothing else, at least they can go home safe in the knowledge that John Bramwell has the best drinks interval you can hope for.John Bramwell is on tour across the UK until June. For a full list of dates, visit his website. A live cd, Live At The Trades, is available exclusively on tour, and a free sample track is available via his mailing list, also found on his website, whilst another can be heard below...