John Fullbright - Saint Bonaventure's Parish Social Club, Bristol
I was having a chat with the Editor of a well-known music website (He's a fool - Asst. Ed.) about gig reviews when I mentioned an upcoming show by John Fullbright that I’d like to review. “Who?” came the reply, along with a mission to explain to said editor all about Oklahoma’s answer to Tom Odell (but gruffer and better).
First things first though: the venue. St Bonaventure Parish Club is one of the hardest places in the world to find, even with the special section on their website explaining how easy it is to find. Note to the promoter – it’s actually on Friary Road, off Berkeley Road, not on Berkley Road itself. Once inside you realise it really is a proper Parish Club; imagine any working man’s club or social club anywhere in the country and you’ll be imagining St Bonaventure’s with its lush brown/beige 70s carpet, students earning some pocket money behind a bar stocked with a variety of grab-bag crisps. It is though, one of the most intimate venues I’ve been to so far - and it’s packed.
Once I settled down with my pint of proper beer - an anomaly in this gig going world of Carlsberg, Tuborg and Strongbow - it’s not long until the Grammy-nominated Fullbright wanders onto the stage almost completely unnoticed. The baby-faced troubadour that he is, he looks like he’s just stepped out from behind the bar to collect glasses. He raises a bit of a murmur as he puts on his harmonica, and the audience finally realises this is it when he starts singing.
He has the standard setup for these roots/folk gigs, which is totally stripped back from the full band that you hear on his record. Tonight it’s just him and Terry ‘Buffalo’ Ware on the guitar. Luckily for the 24 year old Texan he’s damn fine on the acoustic guitar, harmonica - and extraordinary on the keys - and Ware excels on the electric guitar. Fullbright opens with three new songs, the first he claims to have finished in his hotel this afternoon. Normally this would be a brave move but as very few of the audience know any of his songs it makes little difference.
Fullbright switches over from the acoustic guitar about a third of the way into the night and shows he’s bloody good on the keyboard with a bit of ragtime on ‘Fat Man’. He also gives us some boogie woogie, real blues ivory tinkling, and at the end of the set actually switches from guitar to keyboard whilst still playing both. It’s a little awkward but undeniably impressive.
The songs you’d expect to hit home live are at the rockier end of his scale, ‘Gawd Above’, ‘Satan and St Paul’, ‘All The Time In The World’, and what in another life would be his breakthrough single ‘Jericho’. The touching ‘Me Wanting You’ also proves he’s got the chops to pull off the slower stuff, despite discussing how much he doesn’t believe love songs.
It must be a strange kind of tour for these American roots artists; the room is full of grey headed people, some with their kids, and is really subdued until the last twenty minutes. You can imagine in the US they play rowdy bars and venues that are polar opposite to the St Bonaventure Parish Clubs and Bush Halls of our fair land.
Once the set is finished there’s no escape for Fullbright and Ware; as we file out into the Bristolian evening they’re there, stood at the merchandise table talking politely to their audience and signing CDs. How quaintly British.