Live Review: John Joseph Brill – Liverpool

John Joseph Brill

john joseph brillScandinavian Church, Liverpool, 8th April 2016

Words: Gary Lambert

It was Ladies Day in Liverpool, which, if you have ever read the Daily Mail is the day which proves northerners are oiks, but if you have ever been to Liverpool on that day it proves to be one of the most exciting, extravagant and fun days of your life. That said it is not everybody’s ideal adventure, so fifty less artificially tanned souls found themselves taking solace at The Scandinavian Church to watch the latest step in John Joseph Brill’s career and hopefully some wonderful supporting acts chosen by the top pop pickers at Harvest Sun (Note: the bill and highly interesting playlist were of the headliner’s own choosing I found out later).


Opening up the evening was Mick Roach. First impressions can be deceiving. My first impression of Mick Roach was that he was a man I would trust to give an honest quote on some painting and decorating. More mature than most acts first on and looking unassuming and trustworthy, I expected a Shack-lite or worse. What came to the fore was a rare talent. His voice was stunning. Gritty yet soft like velvet sandpaper which brought thoughtful comparisons with Dave Hemingway and Chris Rea.


After the subtle beauty of Mick Roach came Lives. Now Lives were the antithesis of everything that had gone before. We know the sound in the church reverbs around like a pinball machine, but that was seen as a challenge by the five piece as they aimed for the noisiest score and a free ball. To my taste this had a dampening effect on the enjoyment of the performance because it felt immature and replaced tunes with a metallic shimmer of cymbal and indecipherable guitar. You couldn’t even make out the words of the frontman when he tried to speak between tracks because of the drummer tapping away.


Then the main act was up and….Woah!! In the last few months something has changed in Brill’s vocal. The magic is still there, but it is joined with a global rock styling. It is not only a beautiful instrument but it is also used in a most enjoyable fashion as it takes you away from your life and into his tales of heartbreak and alcohol. Now supported by a four piece backing band rather than with his acoustic guitar, there is less need for the shouting which was used as a replacement for power in the early gigs. There is probably something technically different he is doing that I couldn’t contemplate but it sounds controlled yet bigger. I love this man’s music I do admit and would listen to him reading the contents of a bottle of ketchup, but sitting at the back of the church I found a new appreciation of the clarity of his words too. Due to the damage done over many years of gig going, my ability to make out lyrics is usually dreadful, yet I could pick out every single word he sung. I wish I didn’t type this, but I can’t think of another way to explain the vivid yet clear tone he uses… It was like listening to a poet read his own work to you. The first time I saw Brill I was going on the off chance he might be good and I was told by the guy on the door “you’ll remember this, he has a rare talent”, these words are so true and I urge you to go to your Spotify or Soundcloud and listen to him; however nothing on record will compete with seeing him perform and listening to Muscle and Bone or The Grape and The Grain without the shackles of a studio.


There is humour in the darkness too. John is a very personable man who spends time talking to people who have watched him perform, but he also has a very British dry sense of humour. “That was a sad song… This one’s sadder” as he has a mid-show interlude to take control of the sound away from the band to purely his guitar. You know that he is smiling too as he sings “I’m a godless man” in a church, for the third day in a row.


I am certain that John Joseph Brill  is on the way to fame, fortune and people globally referencing him like John Grant and Father John Misty. I’m glad to say for when that happens that we at Popped Music liked him first.

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    Popped Music has been going since Feb 2010.

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