One Night in Jericho

Carbon Nation – One Night in Jericho

John Wesley plays a rare solo gig in the UK. Karin Bergman reports from the front row.

November, 2008| The Jericho Tavern is a nice, but unremarkable pub in Jericho, an area just north of Oxford city centre. But if one walks through a door in the back of the up (braving the smell of urine that lurks behind it) and heads up the stairs, a venue with quite the feather in its hat awaits. This is where Radiohead played on the very night they were discovered by their managers (who they’ve worked with ever since) back when their name was On A Friday and the venue has seen a lot of musicians come and go since then.

This night, however, would not be about a band of any sort. This was a John Wesley solo gig, a very rare occurrence in Europe. And it was a gig I had been looking forward to a lot! With both old and new songs performed acoustically this would be a great way to hear his guitar playing and vocals away from Porcupine Tree. Im a big fan of Wes’ alums, perhaps particularly the Live at Katie Fitzgerald’s one. Since that live album is an acoustic album it was pretty much what I hoped this gig would aspire to be. Simply Wes.

Before Wes would take to the stage, there was an opening act in the shape of local musician Trev Williams who performed a bunch of covers. He failed to impress me. I found his voice somewhat lacking and his versions of songs I’d heard many times before a bit unimaginative and I must confess I spend more time talking to friends than listening to him during his set. When Wes walked on stage I’d sat down on the floor in front of it (and knocked over the pint of beer I’d treated myself to on my left foot, the contents of which my shoe then proceeded to soak up) and I was wondering which of my favourite songs might appear. He’d mentioned on his MySpace that half the songs would be new material. So while I was excited at the prospect of unheard songs I Worried that there would be a lack of “old hits’. However my concerns quickly proved to be unfounded. Kicking off the set was 13 Days, a song whose studio version has a guitar solo performed by Marillion’s Steve Rothery on it. Appropriately enough, Rothery was in the audience but he did not join ranks with Wes to play the solo. Many Porcupine Tree fans, who haven’t heard Wes outside of the live constellation of the band in question, would barely recognise his voice when he sings his own songs. Gone are the high-pitched vocal harmonies that one might be used to, and in their place we have dynamic vocals sound stronger and seem to be sung with much more ease than the falsetto vocals.

Two of my favourites, namely Our Hero and Desperation Angel followed before the first new song of the evening was showcased. Free started off with an intro that felt very typical of “Acoustic Wes” and it left me wanting to hear more of the new stuff.

However an old song performed in a new way would tide me over for a few more minutes as Wes began to play an intro to The King of 17 that at times made me think of tap dancing, but on the guitar. And strange as it may sound, I mean this in a good way! The song is about a boy who promises to look after a girl needing to get away from her troublesome family life, and is even more of a favourite of mine than the previous two “oldies”.

‘The trouble with 17-year olds’, said Wes after the song had finished, ‘is that they turn into 20-year olds.’ And on that note we got to hear the second new song of the evening: Falling into Fallen. Yes, 17-year olds do turn into 20-year olds and they have their own lives and this song, from what I understand, deals with the role of the parent having to stand back and watch their children grow up and fall in love.

Disconnect starts off with a quite dark atmosphere; long, drawn-out words and notes that seem to infuse a kind of melancholy in me. Then the song changes and Wes brings out more power in his vocals and guitar, making it much less gloomy. But only for a shot while, after that the song returns to its original dark sound and we’re left with the king of depressive theme that Wes jokes about as being his specialty.e.

Waiting for the Sun ought to have been of of the most familiar tracks, but with some fresh lyrics and a lot of impressive guitar work it kept me listening to it the way I would with a brand new song.

We were informed that the next three songs were in his new “Hope-trilogy”, but where exactly the hopefulness of the lyrics was supposed to be I’m not sure and even Wes himself added that the hope was in there ‘somewhere’.

We got to hear Star, Shiver and Showing Happy to the Wold before Wes told us that this was the part where we should pretend that he had left the stage and then returned again after being cheered on by the crowd. So we did.

Very moving performances of Please Come Back and Thanksgiving Day (a beautiful, heartbreaking song that has yet to be released, but can be heard on his MySpace) left me so sad that I barely noticed Steve Rothery getting on stage, but the cheers of the Marillion fans in the venue pulled me out of my reveries.

They treated us to the ultra-classic song In Your Eyes off Peter Gabriel’s So album, but it was the Marillion songs that for a moment had me considering the possibility of two of them recording an album together. Rothery is not only a skillful guitarist but one that’s really interesting to watch, and the versions of Warm Wet Circles and Lavendar left me wanting to go to a Marillion gig the very next night (and should leave many fans of both Wes and Marillion hating themselves for missing this gig). Wes had time to squeeze one more song in and after Rothery left the stage he chose Rome Is Burning to close the set.

While I would have loved to hear Fly Boy, Into the Night and a few other favourites of mine the mixture of old songs hardly allows me to harbour any bitterness with regards to the setlist, and I can’t wait to hear the result of John Wesley’s next studio adventures.

All in all a great evening (my shoe, which still smells faintly of Staropramen, might disagree but sometimes you have to take one for the team) and I hope to see Wes and his guitar again. Soon.