There are very few musicians that can capture and critique the human condition in such a sublimely nuanced manner as Will Varley. It has become apparent that once people become aware of the Folk hero they immediately become fans, hence the sold out nature of Varley’s Nottingham show. Having just finished a tour opening for Mr. Frank Turner across Europe and the UK, the singer songwriter has been given a major platform to share his craft. The popularity of this tour suggests that he made use of that platform particularly well.
The only support act came from Molly’s Lips, an Icelandic folk-pop duo that employed gentle harmonies to great effect. It was unfortunate that their set became characterised by a largely inattentive crowd, focused more on drunken ‘banter’ than the performance in front of them. Hidden underneath a chorus of misogynistic observations and dick jokes (it should be clarified, these came from the audience, not the band) was a series of beautiful Icelandic folk songs that flowed brilliantly from one another. While it has been mentioned that the band originate from Iceland, the music is enjoyable on a universal scale. A complete change of pace saw the set close with a 50s style Rock and Roll song that saw a few people jiving. Interestingly some of the audience that had been talking the loudest throughout the bands set then rushed to the merch desk to buy their CD. Perhaps as an attempt to catch up with what everyone else had just attempted to witness.
Shortly following Molly’s Lips was headliner Will Varley, to a captivating ovation. Following his second song Varley addresses the crowd. Explaining how impressed he was with the slickness at the start of Frank Turner’s setlists, Varley claimed he had intended to replicate that by flowing from one song into the next. He then, of course, noted that he had ruined his attempt to do this by explaining his intentions and breaking the flow. Fortunately this didn’t really matter. This music isn’t designed to be polished, but rather to be fun, interactive and at times devastating. The back to back use of ‘Send My Love to the System’ and ‘The Man Who Fell to Earth’ was the perfect example of this. Heartbreakingly raw stories told in a way that could leave a man of stone questioning the meaning of his life. Against numerous songs of this style and calibre, Varley cleverly contrasted comic songs such as ‘The Self Checkout Shuffle’ and ‘Talking Cat Blues’ in order to avoid killing any atmosphere in the room. An equilibrium between these two extremes is where the folk singer really excels. At his best Will Varley is able to produce songs that raise incredibly important questions, but are still able to get two hundred and fifty people singing along. The chorus to ‘Advert Soundtrack’ rings through the dark first floor of the Bodega with such incredible resonance that there is an almost audible realisation of a shared struggle of life in a contemporary consumer society.
“This music isn’t designed to be polished, but rather to be fun, interactive and at times devastating”
Varley also deserves praise for innovative merchandising. It can become boring to hear bands talk about the CDs they have for sale on a table at the back of the room. Despite not making reference to his merchandise (perhaps because of a personal disdain for the penetration of advertising into every medium?), and only having one shirt design for sale, there was great interest in the merchandise. Perhaps this is because of well-produced hip flasks engraved, almost ironically, with the line “Pour a little whiskey now, into my cup. We swear that we’ll never grow up”. This show itself felt wonderfully special. Closing with ‘I Got This Email’ the set acted as evidence of the communal power of music, bringing humans from different creeds together to sing, think, and enjoy themselves.
Image: Funk Dooby via Flickr