There was a lot of noise in the area immediately outside the Cheeky Monkey. Whether that contributed to the calm and quiet feeling inside the store or not is impossible to say. The contrast was very striking though because the scene inside was so quiet as to appear almost silent by comparison. There was no lack of people but even the usual hum that surrounds a crowd was largely absent. Slowly though, and with a sensibility that bordered on surreal, an essence of music began threading a subtle path to the front of the shop. That was the first sign of what Nic Swales had to offer.
If there was one possible complaint it’s that he could have been louder. It’s a flimsy one however because his audience was listening. And they weren’t just paying heed in a casual manner. They were mostly attentive to the level where the concept becomes an absolute, which is the key point of hearing music. Showmanship is a factor in that. And the medium can instil a plethora of emotional reactions but none of that takes place without people listening to at least some degree. In this case they were certainly doing that and it was because he had so much for them to want to hear.
Nic’s approach is one where the instrument(s) and vocal each have an expression appropriate for a soloist. His guitar style combines extraordinary amounts of lead picking between rhythmic chords placed to adhere to his time signature. The instrument itself, a gorgeous ‘”Martin”, has a ravishingly beautiful tone that’s made sublime by the expressiveness of his lead work. The harmonica, when he used it (which was frequently), provided an additional voice that penetrated emotions. His vocal was that of an evocative storyteller. Close attention was paid to diction and key points in wording and phrases were emphasized to create a dynamic that conjured abstract yet powerful images for listeners to indulge and enjoy.
His original compositions, which comprised the bulk of the show, had an excellent balance in their structures. Their patterns varied but all of them established clear threads quickly enough to give listeners something that could be embraced quickly. Once in there, he held them with concise writing that touched spectrums of variation that remained true to their original premise. Brevity is a watchword for him as well. Once a song is finished, it’s over,period. Even the new (and possibly unfinished) piece, ‘Should Have Been Gone’ which clocks in at about four and a half minutes, had very little in the way of repeated refrains designed to extend it. It’s a model for what song writing can be.
The two covers at the show’s close provided yet another insight. ‘Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door’ was reinvented completely, and in a way that worked beautifully. The opening strains of ‘Here Comes The Sun’ were played in a way that can only be described as “otherworldly”. What followed was a take that was close to the original while still becoming his own. The man’s capacity for invention is something to behold.
Nic Swales is unique, and wonderfully so. Hats off to a Bard.
To view more photos taken during the evening by both Roland and Brian Hay as well as some of the original artwork by W.A. (Bill) Walters CLICK HERE