Live | John Smith @ St Pancras Old Church, London

John Smith live at St Pancras Old Church

Photo from Bartek Odias/The Upcoming

We recently caught John Smith electrify a building so old and precious that it was delicately blasphemous of him to do so, really. He played a stonking set to in the endlessly beautiful (and sold-out) St Pancras Old Church, flanked by frightening iconography and aided by gorgeously talented double-bass-player John Thorn.

Before we were initiated into the cult of Smith, we were introduced to the lovely Jennifer Left (editor Lynn recently submitted this young lady, along with two other acts, to the Glastonbury Emerging Talent long list). She’s a bluesy salon-style singer who chuckled her way through an earthy, sexy set in a fur-trimmed coat and some powerful red lipstick. We’ll be rooting for her (along with eight other bands – torn loyalties and all that).

Following hard on Jennifer’s excellent heels, John Smith took to the apse (if that’s what the stage in a church is called – we’re not sure) for a lengthy, beautiful set dominated by damp weather, geography and matters of the heart. He opened with ‘Freezing Winds of Change’, a spellbinding showcase of his powers at their strongest.

Smith’s specific skill lies in his mixed proclivities. In look and sound, he could easily be doing all this thirty years ago, if not for modern popular culture squaring up to him relentlessly. On working out how on earth to deal with Twitter, he complains: “I don’t want to be like Kanye West [whose tweets are sparse to say the least]. I don’t want to be like Radiohead either. I’ve been following them for three years and I haven’t heard a peep”. We’d say John’s getting Twitter better than either of those pop paragons.

When he’s not overlaying achingly beautiful, simple lyrics over incredibly intelligent steel guitar melodies (lulling an audience full of worn-out Londoners with his powerfully gentle, idiosyncratic csound in the process), Smith hypothesises about the apocalypse, and the repopulation of a new Earth by members of the audience. We certainly took a look at our neighbours with arched eyebrows, assessing whose seed might be fittest for survival on a hastily converted dust planet.

Watching Smith live is a near-perfect experience: he’s an emotionally engaging performer with a flair for the funny and a newly found penchant for a hummable, singalong tune, blowing through the soul with the force of a mistral.

There’s a likeable sincerity, and a deadpan sense of humour infusing his onstage persona, from the assurances of imminent doom to the spartan calm of his gentlest, most searingly emotive songs.

Admittedly this is slightly unrelated, as he made this video some time ago and he doesn’t do magic at all his shows, but look how good he is at tricks and Christina Aguilera* covers:

John Smith’s Spring Tour takes him all around the lovely music venues of England, and we thoroughly recommend that you catch up with him at your favourite local music hall. His third studio album, The Great Lakes, is out on 25th March.

Spring Tour

19th March – Manchester – Band on the Wall

21st March – York – The Basement

22nd March – Liverpool – Epstein Theatre

25th March – London – Purcell Room (Southbank Centre)

26th March – Cambridge – The Junction

27th March – Brighton – Komedia

28th March – Sheffield – The Greystones

29th March – Matlock (Bath) – The Fishpond

4th April – Bristol – Louisiana

5th April – Birmingham – Glee Club

6th April – Tywyn – The Magic Lantern Cinema

7th April – Leicester – The Musician

Not Brittney Spears. Definitely not Brittney Spears.