Live albums can be a bit of an adventure. Some are great, but many don’t work, not least because quite a few successful artists should really stick to the studio where there’s a super powerful auto tune to edit out all those bum notes. They can be a good way to decide whether or not to pay money out to see an act live. As you listen, ask yourself this: are you making allowances for it being a live set, or are you bopping your socks off to an outstanding performance?
Happily, PAUL LIDDELL AND DELPHIANS LIVE is the second kind of album: note perfect performances with the added edge that comes from playing songs straight through in front of an audience – although perhaps it isn’t the kind of music you’d bop to. Liddell’s mellow but powerful voice and well crafted tunes compliment the subtle messages in his songs.
I decided to review this album after seeing him perform recently at the HMV Institute in Birmingham. He was supporting Matt Cardle and wasn’t having the quietest of receptions. It makes me sad, particularly in the case of a headliner like Cardle, who has a lot of control over his work and is likely to have had a say in who supports him. He’d have chosen an act he feels is quality, someone he’s proud to have on the same stage, so why not give the guy a chance? The friend I went with had seen Paul Liddell before and was really looking forward to the show. She and I tried to mentally block out the hubbub, but we were at the front and heard it as loudly as he must have. So Paul plugged on. He has supported other big names, including Florence and the Machine, Calvin Harris and Miles Hunt, so I daresay he’s experienced this attitude before. Half the audience listened and cheered him on, while the other half talked loudly amongst themselves. This is par for the course I suppose with any concert. A proportion of the audience pay to see the headliner and perceive the support as an obstacle to be endured and ignored.
At one point Paul actually delayed the start of a song after appealing for a little quiet. When it became clear that it wouldn’t materialise, he plugged on doggedly and guess what: a few bars into “Runaway”, people started to shush and listen to this beautiful song. Many had been caught unawares by his trademark layered sample build up that made his solitary guitar and lone voice sound like a full band. I won’t pretend to understand the technicalities, but it is quite something to witness. Mainly though, he was singing a cracking tune.
Hang on, this is supposed to be an album review, so I’d better get to it. PAUL LIDDELL AND DELPHIANS LIVE, as the title suggests, was recorded live in various venues and includes audience reactions to prove it. As I understand, Liddell wrote most of the fifteen tracks and they are all quite brilliant in an understated way, mostly social commentary. Exceptions include “Argentina” (from the Lloyd Webber musical Evita) and “The Ghost of Old Tom Joad.” by Bruce Springsteen. Some are softly pensive, others like “Second Son” sharp, bright and angry. He is accompanied on a number of tracks by Delphians and sings without disguising his soft Sunderland accent, which brings intimacy to the performance and makes me inclined to listen to the lyrics that bit more closely. “Goodbye Mr Green” had me there with him at a small gig where an old acquaintance was in the audience, creating an uncomfortable scene. “Kill-O-Gram” has a simple production and powerful delivery with chilling subject matter and “The Ghost of Old Tom Joad” is positively spooky. “Ghost Car,” on the other hand isn’t spooky at all, but is about driving in the dead of night when the whole world seems to be empty of life. “We Keep Our Truth” displays that layered sampling I described really well, but I found the repetition of the title line went on slightly too long at the end. This also goes for the final track “Hurricanes”. Many will disagree. “Dialling Tone” is another that builds well and for some reason I didn’t find the final line repetition so onerous, maybe because I really, really liked the guitar. “Travelling Song” sticks in my head for ages after every listen. It has a female backing vocal that empowers the song and thoughtful lyrics. “Hungerstrike” is possibly the most overtly political.
This is an album for quiet moments. Good for listening to on a long journey or sitting by a camp fire whilst contemplating pictures made by the flames. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve listened to it since I got it. Definitely far more than required for writing this review and I anticipate listening to it again often. Buy it here