Ryan Bingham is an act that defies categorisation. First seen as a country act, his music showed more signs of country-rock, or perhaps rock-country, blues, before some placed him in the catch-all box of Americana.
After tonight the only real category he needs to placed, is a singularly talented performer. Before Ryan hits the stage, we spend time with the engaging and very funny John Cragie. Sharp, witty songs alongside a running gag about the trials of the support act, are a real winner with the crowd.
Music’s the only art form that has a support act. John Steinbeck’s grapes of wraith, doesn’t come with a support act.
Craigie is certainly one to watch out for in the future.
Bingham took the stage and delivered a set that traversed genres, and delighted the capacity crowd, with a show of starkly emotional songs, and the truth behind them. Bingham’s life reads like one more suited to the blues, and we do indeed get some fantastic blues played. But the overriding memories of tonight will be that voice that sounds like he has gargled in a mixture of glass and chrome, and his slide guitar playing, which was a real revelation. The songs are a mixture of the deeply personal, and a surprising mix of cover songs. I don’t think anyone in the festival crowd, would have expected to hear ‘Arthur McBride’ tonight for example!
Ryan likes to paint images, half-completed and let the listener fill in some context themselves. But sometimes ‘The Poet’ can become the story himself. There is an aurora about the guy on stage, and in his delivery, that says he has lived this life. ‘Tell My Mother I Love Her’ merely reinforces this thought. Crowd favorite ‘Hallelujah’ is almost Johnny Cash in material, lyrically, if not musically.
If some of the themes are dark, Bingham keeps the banter cheerful, and his guitar lit and singing in its own right. The Mexican standard ‘La Malaguena’ is played with finesse and ease, that is a wonder to witness. But it’s his slide guitar that really lifts an already special gig to new heights.
The choice of ‘Arthur McBride’, with a very relaxed vocal delivery devoid of any discernible American accent, is a real crowd-pleaser, but his version of Townes Van Vandt’s ‘Pancho and Lefty’ is the real deal for me. Cited by Ryan as one of his heroes, and musical figures he aspired to, his version is filled with emotion, and enough nuances to lift it above so many other versions of the classic tale of friendship and betrayal.
Ryan has a very affable stage presence, enhanced by his interaction with the crowd and taking detours of his setlist with requests from the floor. Having heard that Gerry Anderson was something of a champion of his music, as he was of a lot of superior artists, Ryan dedicates a song to the much-missed Derry man. A sublime rendering of the Oscar-winning ‘The Weary Kind’ a respectful hush over a grateful Black Box. ‘Southside of Heaven’, from his time on the wrong side of the tracks, brought the show to a rapturous close all too soon.
This is the first time I have the good fortune to see Ryan live, and I am a real convert to the house of Bingham. Only one question remains. If he is this good on his own, what level does he get to with his band?
Can’t wait to find out!