John Grant

One of the reasons I wanted to set up this blog was to start talking about singers like John Grant.

Don’t worry – I have a lot to say about a lot of other artists, and if you’re trying to get a handle on my taste and my musical angle – don’t worry, so am I. It’s something of a moving feast, and always open to new ideas and directions. So there’s your invitation. Send me your thoughts. As I publish more, you’ll start to see what I’m on about.

Back to John Grant. I’d not heard of him until a musical contact of mine @Timinator let me know he had a ticket to see him at the Vanguard in Newtown and couldn’t go. Completely unknown to me, I nonetheless trusted Tim’s judgement and took the proverbial punt…and the ticket.

As I now know, John Grant is an American singer/songwriter who was the lead singer of a band formed in 1994 called the Czars which, as he told the audience, we wouldn’t have heard of due to ‘a complete lack of success’.

I am yet to hunt down anything of the Czars and will let you know once I do – but essentially I wanted to get this review and a couple of links and samples out there.

Despite what I’ve written below, after a number of listens to his first solo album, the song which has stuck in my mind on an almost continuous loop is the title track: Queen of Denmark. Not just for the lyrics which are wry and heartbreaking, but for that clear-throated vocal which, as a live performance, is still reverberating through me from the shoes up…have a listen…

The show was a little while ago now but, as I often do, I like to email friends with reactions. Here’s what I sent Tim at the time:

I cried.
Not sure what I expected, but out came this guy in a neat jacket and jeans and unleashed a voice that I still cannot believe.
May have been the venue as well (so intimate that his voice filled the room and came up through the floor). And then, in a couple of songs, he really let go, and I realised he hadn’t really been trying until then. Shivers up the spine stuff.
Love the songs – Sigourney Weaver, It’s Easier, Fireflies stick in my mind – Where Dreams Go to Die and TC and Honeybear seemed to be well-known to the crowd, and I loved those as well, but the first three really struck me.
Caramel is a beautiful love song – quite raw and unpolished in the live performance – just perfect. Although it’s very slick on the album.
I like the synth thing – he credits Iva Davies of Icehouse, and the 70s/80s stuff as an influence, and it really adds something you don’t see every day. He tended to stick to one effect/sound approach, which sometimes jolted me outside the song experience – but mostly it worked really well and just made for a fully unique experience.
He’s also brilliant on the keyboards.
Lyrically fantastic – great humour (esp Sigourney Weaver) and wryness which is genuinely amusing and endearing. Outer Space felt weird, may be a deliberate 70s homage, but felt strange/lyrically awkward because I was there the first time, and so it felt dated or something. Probably just a personal thing.
Here’s a guy with serious issues to work through and a lot of anger which he readily admits and discusses, but a little self-deprecation and a real warmth means there was a lot of love in the room. The way he breezes over the fact his coke dealer tried to suicide on the sofa made you feel like he was recounting the everyday larking about of a small child.
Although someone on Twitter said they walked out – but hey. Their loss.
I noted another Tweeter saying his wife was going to the concert and that she considered him criminally neglected as a talent – I wholeheartedly agree.

Here’s a Czars song for your edification because, from what I heard, their complete lack of success was another crime…

John Grant has promised he’s coming back to Oz soon. I’m so there.

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