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I went to see Midlake at the Leadmill in Sheffield last night. Truth be told, it wasn’t Midlake that I really wanted to see but the support act John Grant. John Grant has a CD out at the moment called ‘Queen of Denmark’ that unless something exceptional happens, is my album of 2010. And yes, I know it’s only June. Actually this album is goes completely against the grain of anything I’d chose to listen to. If you’re old enough it could almost be ‘Adult Orientated Rock’, which, for me, would be the kiss of death. But whereas that music was mawkish and lightweight but with great tunes, this keeps the tunes but exchanges the syrupy sentiments for sardonic look at fucked up relationships. It’s hard to how Grant can find humour when faced with utter defeat, but some of the lyrics on this album are among the best I’ve heard. But apart from that, the real star of ‘Queen of Denmark’ is John Grants spectacular voice.

If I was asked to describe this instrument, then I’d have to say if Lou Rawls and Karen Carpenter spawned a bastard love child from a passionate but brief affair, then its singing voice would sound remarkably like John Grant’s. I guess the only real way for you to decide if this album is any good is to cop a listen to it yourself, but I think it’s a wonderful piece of work and a real joy to listen to.  

Sheffield is only an hour away by train, and because it’s staying early a lot later now its summer, I enjoyed watching the scenery from my seat in carriage A. Sheffield’s a nice city. It’s small, but, don’t some of the best things in life come in small packages? Some of my favourite groups have come from Sheffield, at one point was completely besotted by Cabaret Voltaire, then to a lesser extent, the Human League and Pulp, so it has a prominent place on my rock and roll map. I haven’t however been to the Leadmill, which when I look at the gig guides, always seems to have the groups I like playing on its stage.

The Leadmill was bigger than I thought it would be, but because I’m early I get myself a good spot at the front of the stage and wait patiently for the show to begin. At half past eight, Grant and his band amble on stage, take up their instruments and start to play. I should mention that the place is packed with people who also seem to have come under the Queen of Denmark’s spell and are unusually attentive to this particular support band. He plays every thing I want him to play; ‘It’s Easier’ that resides in heartbreak, the master class in melancholia ‘Marz’, and what appears to be this crowds favourite ‘Sigourney Weaver’ It all done with out any flash of course, and its good, honest proper music for good honest proper people, and the crowd love it. John Grant has that look where he’s surprised that anyone has actually heard his work, let alone the warm welcome that greets each song, but I’m sure he’ll have to get used to it.

For me the set is not nearly long enough and I hoping that he’ll come to Manchester soon.
To my shame the only song I’ve heard by Midlake is called ‘Roscoe’. However after last night I now know that there is so much more to enjoy. They ease into their set with a moody instrumental that ebbs and sighs until it reaches a thrilling crescendo which grabs hold of the crowd and doesn’t let go until they finally walk off stage an hour and a half later. Midlake is a seven-headed creature comprising of three electric guitars, an acoustic guitar, a bass, keyboards and a set of drums. A flute is swapped for a guitar now and then to add a different colour which changes the tone of the song. They’re obviously a band that is in love with playing live and in concert, and the evening is full of moments where they stop being individual players and mesh with each other in concert to produce something special. A great, great performance from a band in ascendance.

Review/photos by Phil King