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Review: Richard Godwin


Richard Godwin
(Vortex, August 30th 2010)

For his second appearance at the Vortex, Richard Godwin had gently self-deprecating wisecracks teed up and ready to introduce each of his two sets, complete with punchlines:

For the first set, deadpan: “They say you appear at the Vortex twice. Once on your way up and once on your way down. Welcome back.” And after the interval: “We hope you’ve had time to go to the loo and adjust your…expectations.”

This verbal facility is scarcely surprising. You would expect a talented 29-year old editor/ feature writer/ columnist at the Evening Standard, surrounded daily by a swarm of healthy egos, to be highly articulate. The unknown here was Godwin as singer-songwriter. He has good presence as a performer, and it will be above all fascinating to follow what directions his lyric-writing and song-writing take.

The opening set was quiet, folky, but beset with problems with amp leads. The songs, with strong hints of Bob Dylan – and, a reliable informant told me – the American singer Elliott Smith, who died tragically young in 2003- have a quiet directness about them. The lyrics paint vivid pictures in few words: winds, windmills, crashed cars, shards of glass. But the vulnerability they appear to portray comes with more than a hint of archness.

He enjoys internal rhymes, with the relish of a Dylan Thomas or a Sondheim. Godwin often delivers with a thinnish voice – like Brecht’s – in an insistent monotone, pushing out a repeated dominant on guitar. But he is a very capable guitarist, notably in an episode involving flautando harmonics, or when picking out a clear melody in the tenor register with his elegant, long, thin fingers.

Backing vocalist Amelia Tucker provided subtle support, and the trio of Tom Cawley on piano, Riaan Vosloo on bass and Tim Giles on drums were immaculate.

This trio were more in evidence in Godwin’s livelier second set. With their support, Godwin’s presence as performer seemed to grow palpably. The opening number “Powerful Message” deserved, and duly got, some really committed applause. It is a song about corporations getting a message about their responsibility across, and seemingly drew on more of Godwin’s recent experience. The Financial Times has spent the last three decades lamenting the lack of high quality creative work portraying business culture authentically. This song by Godwin, and whatever follows in its wake, may be an answer such calls.

The strongest performances were kept for the end: a robust and heartfelt rendering of Brel’s Au Suivant/ Next, an affectionate song Josie dedicated to his wife, and the final Variety, sung as an encore in duo with Tom Cawley. This song came to an end with the words “I keep coming back for more.” Which sounds like a very good idea.

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12 replies »

  1. I was at the concert yesterday and I'm sorry to say I don't agree on your review, no offence :0)
    The guitars were not in tune, the band members were not connected to each other, there were massive pitch faults in the singing… the whole things was badly disappointing. I'm sorry, but I don't see where Godwin talent is. His songwriting is poor (I got ink to spill and a page to fill, that's one of the lines I remember best… Bob Dylan? Please…), his guitar skills are noticeable, except that he didn't realize the guitar was not in tune. Badly not in tune, as the embarassed bass player noticed. Sorry to say, bad performance, poor songwriting, overall rate minus 2!

  2. Anonymous, thanks for writing in with thoughtful comments.

    Yes sure, I'll grant you some sourness in the tuning between one of his guitars and the piano. For the rest, I guess we'll agree to differ.

    It was my first hearing. I enjoyed the gig, particularly “Powerful Message” and the last few numbers. Did you stay till the end?

  3. I did stay until the end, I wanted to give the concert another shot after the first break, but I left at the second break (did he made any encore?). You are right, “Powerful Message” is a nice song, but -again- I think very underwhelming. I must say I liked Josie, a sweet song which probably would have gone unoticed if Richard wouldn't have dedicated it to his wife, which was a lovely gesture and added some value to the tune.
    To be fully frank, I went to Godwin Myspace website, and I found that his voice is probably better when recorded, but the tunes are just about average. No offence and absolutely no disrespect, but the comparison with Leonard Cohen, Jacques Brel and Bob Dylan are not deserved. Yet, perhaps.

  4. Thanks Paolo for giving a different perspective.

    And I like the way you ended your comment: we all need something to aim for, eh?

    Yes, there was one encore, called “Variety.”

  5. It was an enjoyable gig. Godwin's songs aren't astonishing, but they contain some nice lines and are decently crafted. His guitar work is good, though I agree that the guitar was somewhat out of tune. The band played well. The atmosphere was congenial. I don't think anyone is seriously pretending he's Dylan or Brel, but this is something it's worth his pursuing, although he has more of a future in journalism, as he seems to be aware!

  6. A song may not be astonishing, but if it stays with you and leaves a lasting sense of itself, that can be more powerful in time. I think his songs come under the latter category.

  7. He seemed quite nervous at the beginning, perhaps surprised by the numbers there. All credit to the Vortex for giving him the opportunity. It's a club that so often gives a chance to try out something new. I don't think that anyone expected the “finished article”. Give him time!

  8. I was at the gig on Monday night and although it got off to a poor start due to sound issues, I thought once these were rectified Godwin's set picked up and was really good.

    Lyrically his songs were clever and the melodies stayed with me.

  9. Glad first negative comments have been balanced by more sensible, considered ones. I wasn't at the gig, but have heard Godwin perform before. This review sounds very fair and points out some of the real intricacies and beauty in Godwin's songs. Powerful Message is indeed very good, as is Josie, but I love Summer Cloud – incredible guitar. Did he play Spy vs Spy or Part of that World?

  10. Confused by both critical and lukewarm comments, but each to their own. I'd never heard his music before, but by end of eve, thought it was really something. One thing no one has mentioned here was that this was a musical experiment. It's interesting to see something really promising coming together, especially Richard Godwin's partnership with Emilia Tucker – their voices work so well together.
    Also, just noticed that few other postings on this site have attracted as many comments – wonder whether it is because Godwin is well-known journalist?

  11. Thanks Jon. You raise an interesting point about comments.

    All I can say is that there is absolutely zero correlation between the quantity of comments received on this site and its reader numbers.

    In the past week, both our Jamie Cullum Prom review and our Graphic Design Heaven piece, for example, have had three times more reader numbers than this review, and hardly any comments.

  12. I'm coming to this conversation a bit late, but thought I'd add my 2cents anyway.

    Yes, he was nervous, which was exacerbated by the sound problems at the beginning, and yes, there were some tuning problems, but none of that impacts on the fact that his songwriting is beautiful – I think unusually so. Perhaps comparisons with the greats are a little much, but the craftsmanship in the songs is extraordinary.

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