Richard Buckner, St Pancras OLD church, 07/11/2011

I’m a fairly new convert to the music of Richard Buckner having heard the track Lil’ Wallet Picture on a friends Rough Trade Country CD a couple of years ago.  I was hooked and soon procured his entire back catalogue, and scoured the net trying to find any information of his plans to come to the UK, even writing to his record company begging him to come and play at The Green Note in Camden where I sit on the door now and then.

I never heard so assume it must have been sent to my junk folder, I began to be disheartened it had been about 8 years since he last toured here, and after reading a bio of his last album, Our Blood, which mentioned he works a day job to pay his way I thought there was not much chance of him coming over to these shores any time soon.    Why he has to work a day job when he’s one of the finest songwriters to have ever lived is incredible, think about this when you listen to multi-millionaire acts moaning people are downloading their songs illegally and they have to scrimp on the jewel encrusted  bathroom taps they desired.

For those not familiar with his music, check out some You Tube footage for tons of good stuff, kinda Americana, kinda Alt. country, kinda this and that.

It was with huge excitement that not long after the album was released a tour was announced and he was coming to London and better still to a venue a mere 15 minute walk from my house, I say a venue but it’s a church, the St Pancras old Church, not to be confused with its grander offspring down the road, the cleverly named St Pancras New Church.

I’ve walked past the site many times on my way from Camden to Kings Cross station, and it’s always intrigued me.  Arriving was hugely exciting, steps lead you up off the street you are surrounded by stillness as night has set in and the shadows from the half-moon stretch across the gravestones.   A tramp (or what I believe to be so – more on him later) is lounged across a bench, beer in hand.   I enter the inviting glow of the lights inside, the foyer set up like any other venue, the ticket desk, a table set up to purchase a beer and the merchandise stand which consists of 2 CD’s, a sticker and a poster.  

I immediately make my way through to the main chapel eager to get a good spot since I am as punctual as ever and I have my pick.  The church is small really, half the space taken up by the ‘stage’ set up in front to the pulpit, 7 rows of chairs laid out either side of the main thoroughfare, 5 to a side, from the back of each hangs a prayer mat and the schedule of the next mass.  I seat to the far side half way down and then change my mind preferring an aisle seat on the inside after assessing the configuration of the stage set up and plan for an optimum view.   A few other people have wondered in from the cold, we smile to each other, in awe of the surroundings and excitement of the evening ahead. 

Not from Richard Buckner night but gives you the general idea (this photo credited to http://www.montpatrypress.com)

I scan the murals on the walls, tealights line the sides of the room, the feeling is one of not faded grandeur as this was never grand due to scale, but of slight ruin, a peaceful weariness to it which was welcoming.  It started filling up so saving my seat with my coat I went to purchase a beer, tentatively opening it, despite having no religious viewpoint, you’re in a place people worship in, I had a  slight guilt of drinking in these surroundings so I made a point of returning my empty can to the foyer later on and disposing off it properly.

A journey to the toilet had to be well-timed, only offering one disabled toilet for everyone’s use, anticipating the queues at the intervals I snuck out during the support act to evade an anxious wait when desperate later.  A gig toilet is usually a nasty experience, wading through flooded floor tiles graffiti and stickered walls, although entertaining if you find an interesting piece of writing.   This was perfectly nice, characterised by a chint toilet roll holder which would not be amiss in my Nan’s house.

I came back to my seat during the end of the supports set, an Italian instrumental band called Sacred Hearts (in its English translation anyway) it emerged they would also be backing Richard Buckner who I was expecting from You Tube views to be sat on his stool alone mumbling introspectively, but with a full band we could expect more of his livelier tracks.

The church in its normal guise

The seat in front of me was empty, I was surprised no one came to pinch the prime spot, I soon realised why, someone came staggering towards me and lunged at the seat – it was the guy I mistook for a tramp outside earlier, I was just fooled by the straggly beard, greasy hair stuck to his face which was topped with a woolen hat.  Just my luck in a room of respectable looking people to have the only drunk wearing a hat in attendance sat right in front of me.  His hat wasn’t even on properly, it was down halfway over his head so the top would rise up like a Smurf hat obscuring my view.  He banged around and fidgeted taking one of my kneecaps down (lucky I have two).  People in my aisle looked over and cast their eyes above as if to thank the Lord that they had not been burdened. 

And thank the Lord they should have as the guy proceeded to wobble on his chair, giggle to himself or fall asleep with head lolling backwards before jerking awake so it would cause his hat to fall in my lap. 

I let it ride as soon as Richard Buckner graced the stage, despite more hats dropping in my lap and occasionally kneecapping, the music was enough to keep me entranced.

Standing in front of us centre stage as if delivering a sermon,  “Welcome to my Church” he greeted us before launching into the opening track from Our Blood, his gravelled voice alternating between occasional roars and delicate tones.  The backing band supported superbly, creating an encompassing sound I was not expecting.

After the first track he led straight into the second followed by the third before breaking to allow us to provide a rapturous applause, before  resuming with another trio of songs and it continued as such, each song seamlessly segueing into the next perfectly balanced and imagined.

The main focus was on the new album with carefully selected tracks to suit the mood from his back catalogue, whilst in my head I was screaming for certain tracks to be played, with so many at his disposal it would be a hard task to please everyone.

I left exhilarated and relived after witnessing such a great songwriter in special circumstances.   I turned my collar up and lit a cigarette, his tunes rattling around my head and I commenced the short walk back home through Camden’s deserted backroads, reflections from street lights glistening in the puddles from an earlier downpour, London at its most still.

An extra date has been added to the end of his UK tour, Monday 14th November, The Social in central London for £8.00, it’s no centuries old church, but I wholly recommend catching him.

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