Popular music has long and often thrived upon broken hearts and unrequited love. It is these sad lyrics which fill the peppy musical arrangements. Dubliner Gavin James understands that particular game and plays it well. Almost as well as he plays a guitar. Most of his songs, especially those on his sophomore album, Only Ticket Home, are of the sad variety. Yet his live shows are fun. James gets that an hour and ten minute (the length of his set) of anguish is too much for a person to bear. As such, much like Canadian singer Jann Arden, he lightens it up with his winning personality and in between song banter. Which is light and jokey. Coupled with plenty of calls to hand clapping and singing out oohs and la la las.
Gavin James, who is big in the UK and is played consistently on Top 40 radio over there, gets precious little radio play over here. And that is a shame. Most don’t hear his great music. Thankfully in these days of internet radio, Spotify and You Tube there is still a chance to discover gems like this. In his home of Ireland he plays sold out shows in front of tens of thousands whereas on this side of the Atlantic he plays to crowds of hundreds in small venues. Pity for his pocket book, but a benefit to those who bought a very affordable ticket ($26) to his show at the renamed Club Soda or Fairmount Theatre, as it is now known. The guy is a natural entertainer. Even those who are not familiar with his music (like the two people I was with) can enjoy themselves. Just a likeable guy who is warm and funny. Like the well worn belief about Irish people having the gift of the gab, he is able to weave a story or just be off the cuff funny.
A prime example of why he is an act that is easy to love came early in the show. He started to sing the song “Faces” off his latest album then started laughing as he could not remember the lyrics. After another go at it and failing again. James told the crowd to go easy on him as it was a newish song. Jokingly he asked if there was anyone in the audience who could Google the lyrics. One girl answered and said she knew the words. So, imprompt-like he invited her up on stage. Said he had not done that since he began playing pubs in Dublin. She got up and was initially shy. It soon became apparent that not only did she know the words, but had a good voice. The duet that ensued was pure magic with the crowd lapping it up.
Self-taught guitar player and singer, James possesses a beautiful voice and is quite an accomplished player. Able to hit insanely high notes for a guy, that vulnerability in his voice suits his songs well. An instrument which is raw and filled with emotion. Alternately plucking your heart strings one moment then making you dance along the next. All eyes in the venue fixed upon him….couples holding each other swaying in time. Emotions were evoked. Guitar and voice complimenting each other perfectly.
That forgetting the lyrics to “Faces” was the only hiccup in the whole show, though it turned out to be one of the highlights. The night continued to have the feel of being in an Irish pub for a sing-a-long. Intimate and fun. Crowd totally bought in. To it all. The heartache. Loads of ballads (he even joked how when writing the last song for Only Ticket Home he changed it from a ballad to an up tempo song by making it sound like a late night drunken pub sing song). Forgetting of lyrics. Sing-a-longs. And even “La Vie en Rose” being sung mostly in English by a red head from Dublin.
Opening acts are not usually a highlight in most shows. Local boy Forrest Blakk was a stylistic, looks and voice match for Gavin James. A perfect choice. Before he was put on a VIA train to Dorval his life was a mess. After he ran away from an abusive, violent, drug-filled, and generally mess up household, Forest was homeless as a teenager. It was only when his stepfather’s stepmother invited him to live with her in Montreal that his life turned around. She also bought him a guitar and the rest was written in the notes and words of songs. Blakk’s short 25 minute set contained the songs “Love Me”, “Tread Lightly” and the beautiful “Heaven’s Telephone”, a song about his female cousin’s death from cancer. He was as happy to be playing in front of his hometown crowd as they were to hear him.
- Til the Sun Comes Up
- Hearts on Fire
- The Middle
- Hard to Do
- Cigarette Break
- Coming Home
14. La Vie en Rose (Edith Piaf cover)
15. Only Ticket Home