The timing was funny, what with Cast’s sixth album in the shops this month, but John Power doesn’t appear to care about the anomalies of the music business – ‘have guitar, will gig’ is his motto. The Scouse singer brought his solo songs to town, with a band in tow, and proceeded to remind a rammed Arts Club about his own subterranean homesick blues. By Alan O’Hare.
John Power’s solo work is an interesting curio to sit alongside his wider success with Cast. Three solo albums across five years, between 2003 and 2008, came and went pretty much undetected by the music business over the last decade. But that’s their loss.
Those expecting Cast knock-offs when ‘Happening For Love’ arrived in 2003 were half right, but the few of us who dug deep found more than dirt under the surface. ‘Small Farm’, ‘Mariner’ and the finger-pointing title rack (“the world is run by fools… “) all offered glimpses of the maturity the curly-haired Scouser’s writing had found. Then, when ‘Willow She Weeps’ slipped out with little fanfare or promo three years later, that progress was confirmed as Power delivered his best set of songs, either solo or under the Cast banner. He toured acoustic, then with half a band, before third solo album ‘Stormbreaker’ continued his Americana-tinged artistic success. Then, Cast got back together, fan-funded two more albums and continue to tour constantly.
It was a surprise, then, to hear about a handful of solo dates with ‘the John Power band’ announced to coincide with the release of Cast’s sixth album, ‘Kicking Up The Dust’. Such are the anomalies of the music business these days. The ex-La doesn’t seem worried, though, 2017’s John Power is a wise old bird who’s all about the music. Gone is any attitude other than a supreme confidence in bashing out the folk/blues racket he specialises in.
The singing is revelatory, too. Think you know how Power’s voice sounds because you hear ‘Guiding Star’ on the radio every now and again? You don’t. The longer he spends away from Liverpool, the more Scouse those drawn-out vowels become. The London-living singer is comfortable in his own skin and proved it more than ever at Saturday’s rowdy Arts Club affair in town. A near sell-out crowd enjoyed a set of new tunes and high spots from his solo catalogue, alongside a generous smattering of Cast big hitters.
Yes, ‘Sandstorm’, ‘Alright’ and ‘Fine Time’ got the biggest cheers, but it was the stately ‘Mariner’ that stole the show and Power sounded like Johnny Cash leading the Tennessee Three during that and the best numbers of his solo showcase – songs like the lilting ‘Willow Weep’, the old testament sing-a-long of ‘The Old Red Sea’ and the red hot blues of ‘Ain’t No Woman’. Whisper it quietly, but he seems more at home with these homesick blues than the pop-rock of Cast’s singles. It’s as if his old Who records have been traded in down the Oxfam for more Mississippi Fred McDowell collections.
The aforementioned trio of ‘Happening For Love’, ‘Small Farm’ and ‘Mariner’ were the stars of the solo show on Saturday and the debut album title track really stood out, still taking the temperature of the times and benefiting from a harder arrangement, before a cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘The Sound Of Silence’ took off on its meandering melody, with guitarist Jay Lewis (Cast’s bass player) and drummer Steve Pilgrim (on loan from Paul Weller) supporting its considerable weight. Power nailed it, too.
We’re just glad he’s found the right piece of wood to carve his homespun wisdom on. John Power has a valuable voice, let’s hope we continue to hear it sing for a long time yet.
John Power – The Complete Studio Recordings 2002-2015 is available here
Cast’s ‘Kicking Up The Dust’ is out now
Pic courtesy Academy Music Group