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The potential for a solo artist opening spot, armed with just an acoustic guitar to be demoralising must surely be high.  The audience arriving tonight in clusters at Manchester’s Deaf Institute to see The Miserable Rich, movement and chat guaranteed as people take their positions, order drinks etc.  It’s a credit to the material, vocals and playing of STEPHEN LANGSTAFF, the majority who turned out early on a typically wet, Manchester Friday night kept any disturbance to a minimum. Unfortunately, I only caught two and half songs from Langstaff’s set, although even such minimal exposure couldn’t fail to impress.  Lovely melodies with some very strong and forceful guitar work, provide a solid backdrop backdrop to an outstanding voice, closing track “Smile” especially captivating the assembled. Hopefully, a few sales on the merch desk made the singer / songwriters trip from Liverpool across the M56 worthwhile.

Before the headliners, Leeds based Arthur Rigby and the Baskervylles hold court for half an hour, proving initially, slightly confusing.  Latest EP “Tales from Pegasus Wood” with song titles of “Ode to Gog” and “Nine Silver Rings,” both played this evening, suggests prog leanings, while their appearance, checked shirts and abundance of facial hair perhaps hints towards a more country / folk sound. Instead, we are treated to almost anthemic indie with a touch of trombone providing interesting accompaniment, influences of The Divine Comedy, and even The Killers apparent on occasions. Another strong vocal performance from lead singer / vocalist Benjamin, whose appearance, is one of a younger, svelter Guy Garvey.   Throughout their set however, a feeling arose, something missing, the sound not quite as full as the song structures would suggest. Either the mix didn’t project Benjamin’s acoustic guitar to the necessary level, or the inclusion of a few lead runs and weightier chord sounds would have bolstered the overall effect.  Research reveals The Baskervylles, usually an eight piece octet rather than tonight’s quintet, perhaps providing an explanation,  closing song “White Houses” best suiting the five piece arrangement.

A quote attributed to James De Malplaquet suggests Manchester a second home to The Miserable Rich after their native Brighton. Their record label Humble Soul being based in the city, regular visits building a strong and loyal following, evidence of which very much on show tonight.  Their brand of chamber pop, baroque folk, however you wish to label one of the U.K’s most individual bands, doesn’t usually give rise to the description of party music, although tonight a jovial atmosphere envelops The Deaf Institute.  Admittedly, a slightly eccentric Victorian party within the decorative surroundings, the slightly bizarre nature enhanced by dry ice and an intro of The Penguin Café Orchestra, before the band embark with “Imperial Lines,” second track from latest album “Miss You in the Days.” It’s immediately obvious, tonight no standard, if such a thing exists, performance from The Miserable Rich, De Malplaquet adopting a stance at the microphone verging on rock frontman, both hands holding the microphone stand, leaning forward, seemingly just an inch or two away from foot on the monitor pose.

Throughout, De Malplaquet, plays a Lord of the Manor role, host and raconteur to maximum effect, fuelled by audience reaction, a glass or two of red wine and maybe the slew of purely medicinal whisky’s to alleviate a slightly sore throat. His tales around the songs influences revolve around subjects of sex, ghosts, death and……. more sex,  introducing the majority of the set from “Miss You in the Days” and the latest “Miss You More” EP including “Under Glass,” described as a Christmas song, with an incredible violin solo from Mike Siddell, “Tramps” segued with Edie Brickells “Ghost of a Dog,”True Love,” “On a Certain Night,” “Laid Up in Lavender,” Lighthouse" "The Telephone," “Pillion” penned and introduced by cellist Will Calderbank and the genuinely inspirational closing track “Ringing the Changes,”  James’s heavenly vocals encompassing added passion,  revealing this to be his favourite composition so far.

A testament to the quality of the new material, the back catalogue largely ignored in the main set, only a heart straining version of “Let Me Fade” and the musically upbeat “Chestnut Sunday” from “Of Flight and Fury” being aired, the additional drums and electric guitar within the later material both strengthening and augmenting the elegiac, sumptuous tones of the cello, violin and double bass.

Even though a curfew time of  10.30 is in place at The Deaf Institute, the band re-appear on stage just after this, to play two encores, "Fear of the Dark (Oh Polianna)" and“True Love” before reconvening, stripped down (musically, rather than clothing) on the floor amongst the audience to play two further songs. 


An enthusiastic fan cajoled James to announce “Monkey”  the only appearance from debut “12 Ways to Count” before “Hungover” brought proceedings to a close albeit in slightly unfortunate circumstances.  On initially starting, technical difficulties with Ricky Pritchard’s guitar led to loss of sound, the band having to recommence once rectified. Now, I’m as vehement as the next person in relation to talking at gigs, especially during quiet and intimate moment, although the shout which echoed around the hall of “Shut up you cunts” immediately prior to the recommencement, about as inappropriate in the circumstances as anything I’ve ever heard. Not a profanity had been uttered from the stage all night and in general, the audience extremely reverential. That person really should be ashamed of themselves for slightly tarnishing a sparkling evening of live music.

A gig by The Miserable Rich similar to inviting your most bohemian collection of friends around for a dinner party. The wine flows, humorous and highly entertaining stories unfold, interspersed with some of the most sumptuously gorgeous music imaginable. Truly one of Britain’s most engaging, unconventional and utterly charming bands.

Review by Andy Barnes
Photos by Melanie Smith [from the previous nights show @ The Mad Ferret, Preston]

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