Bristling with brilliance

Justin Currie.
Justin Currie.

IT’S AN action-packed week for singer songwriter performances this week in Sheffield.

Fiddle players, Italian classical guitarists, England’s ‘greatest folk band’ and chart-topping artists will all be gracing the city’s stages over the course of the next ten days.

And it all kicks off with Sharon Shannon tonight, Irish accordionist and fiddle player who brings her intricately-crafted folk to the Memorial Hall.

Justin Currie is also performing a very special show in Sheffield this week. The former Del Amitri frontman turned singer/songwriter brings material from his latest album, The Great War, as well as songs from his earlier solo album What Is Love For? which he released in 2007.

The Scottish singer songwriter described What Is Love For? as ‘eleven thunderously dreary dirges’! But not everyone agreed with him and the album won accolades from critics, fans and fellow artists. His second solo album The Great War, was released in 2010 and delivered a bracing set of original compositions that broke yet more creative ground – and further cemented Currie’s place as an ambitious and versatile solo artist.

Currie was still in his teens when he co-founded Del Amitri in his hometown of Glasgow. Between 1982 and 2002, the band evolved from resourceful D.I.Y. indie combo to international hitmakers, releasing six much-loved studio albums before amicably parting ways.

“It’s a big difference being a solo operator,” Currie says. “What you lose in companionship, support and input, you gain in creative control. But most of the elements of what I do haven’t changed all that much. I’m still looking for melody and lyrics that I can feel something from, and trying to put them into the standard structures of the rock or pop song. I love those structures; to me, the verse/chorus/middle-eight thing still seems filled with endless unexplored possibilities.”

The combination of uplifting tunes and darker lyrical themes has long been a recurring motif in Currie’s songwriting. “Del Amitri were often described as ‘bittersweet’ for that very reason. I am an enormous devotee of pop melodies, from Cole Porter to Amy Winehouse, Smokey Robinson to Buzzcocks. Lyrically, more often than not, I seem to gravitate towards the ambiguity of feelings, the struggle with motivations and doubt in relationships, self-loathing and disappointment—sombre things sometimes, but with a scintilla of hope, or at least catharsis. As a songwriter, I use melody to make all of this less maudlin, hopefully, and to create tension.”

Justin has recently returned from recording his next as yet untitled album in Austin Texas which will be released in 2013. And then, as if that weren’t enough, award-winning Italian acoustic guitarist, Antonio Forcione brings his finger-picking to the Memorial Hall.

Forcione’s music incorporates elements of jazz, blues, Spanish and South American guitar styles for a sound that epitomises World Music. Forcione released his first album for five years, Sketches of Africa, which brings African rhythms and melodies into his playing, he is bringing his vibrant and enigmatic personality to Sheffield City Hall.

Inspired to record the album after travels around the African continent, the album features tracks composed with musicians from around Africa and a range of performers such as Adriano Adewale, Jenny Adejayan, Nathan Thompson.

Half Man Half Biscuit also play a very special, intimate show at the Lomas Hall on Church Street this Friday.

The band themselves believe that over the years they have played in Sheffield more than any other place and frontman Nigel Blackwell reckons this is mainly down to former promoter Chris Wilson and his wife Liz, who he describes as: “Exactly the type of people bands like to encounter when arriving at a venue.’

Their lyrical style is probably more relevant today than it was when they started at a time when here was a choice of only four television channels instead of the hundreds now available and making ‘celebrities’ out of the terminally talentless.

Nigel says he doesn’t actively seek out bad TV, although he is aware that there will always be some available if he needs it. “There are better things to be getting on with in life,’’ he says.

Indeed. Not that they only write about the vagaries of fame – a surprising amount of other subjects have been covered over the years, although they are mostly coated in mordant – and sometimes laugh or you’d cry – wit.

Among the plaudits that have come their way over the years broadcaster Andy Kershaw has referred to them as ‘England’s greatest folk band’ and they have even been the subject of academic studies. And then - a world apart from Half Man Half Biscuit’s northern wit - Guy Pratt is playing a solo show at the Lantern Theatre.

Guy Pratt’s songwriting panache is well-known. Pratt has composed numerous Ivor Novello nominated tracks and won a Granny for one of his songs. The musician-cum-songwriter has also played bass live on stage for the likes of Pink Floyd, David Gilmour, Robert Palmer, Roxy Music, Bryan Ferry, Jimmy Page, David Coverdale, Womack & Womack.

So, it’s a busy week for Sheffield’s live circuit, kicking off with Sharon Shannin on Thursday February 21, Half Man Half Biscuit at Lomas Hall, Church Street, Stannington, Antonio Forcione at City Hall on Sunday February 24 and Justin Currie at City Hall on February 26.