There’s something different about Jamie T tonight. It’s not only the switch from electric to acoustic for this special one-off gig; he seems more self-assured and relaxed than he has done since returning last year following a five-year hiatus. Perhaps it’s the relatively intimate setting of the Hackney Empire, maybe it’s having the friends and family he mentions present.
There’s chatter between almost every song, telling tales of how the old favourites came to be, and explaining the stories behind never-heard-before songs, such as ‘Smile Senorita’, where he describes a night spending hours in the pub talking about the Spanish Civil War before deciding to write a song about it: “Like all good songwriters, I woke up the morning after and realised I knew fuck all about the Civil War, but wrote this anyway.” He promised an evening of rarities, EP songs and covers, something very different from “playing as loud as we can” on the tour in support of ‘Carry On The Grudge’ at the tail end of last year.
The staging is stark and simple, just one spotlight remains on him for the majority of the gig, letting the lyrics become the focal point of the evening; on songs such as ‘Calm Down Dearest’ and new album track ‘The Prophet’ the crowd’s voices match his word for word, sometimes threatening to drown him out when at their loudest but providing an electric atmosphere that echoes around the Empire. ‘Brand New Bass Guitar’ and ‘Back In The Game’ revisit debut LP ‘Panic Prevention’, and even though some of the newer songs may have a more reflective, melancholy feel to them, his performance of the older ones show some sparky youthfulness remains.
Looking around at the groups of 20-somethings arms interlocked, singing their hearts out to each other there’s a real sense of Jamie T’s ability to connect with his generation. Dedicating ‘Sticks ‘n’ Stones’ to anyone that spent, or perhaps more likely, misspent their youth in one of the towns along the South West train line “Kingston Upon Thames, Hampton Wick…”, unsurprisingly it delivers the loudest sing-along of the night. ‘Jilly Armeen’ from ‘Kings & Queens’ followed by ‘Love Is Only A Heartbeat Away’ from ‘Carry On The Grudge’ provide some of the most tender moments, he then introduces a brand new song, the folksy ‘Whiskey and Wine’, explaining that it’s “not quite finished”.
Playfully lamenting a handful of drunken lads at one point for shouting out requests at him, he then looks genuinely taken aback, smiling wryly, when the whole building erupts into a “Jamie, Jamie, Jamie!” chant before the encore. After over an hour’s worth of rarities, EP songs, and newer material he returns to the stage to play a rousing cover of Billy Bragg’s ‘A New England’, a song that used to feature in his live shows but one that he hasn’t played since the ‘Panic Prevention’ days. Ending the night with ‘Fox News’ which “has never been played live before”, tonight Jamie T has stepped up to the role of commander - and he finally looks comfortable being there.
Photos: Phil Smithies
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