(Vortex, August 30th 2010)
For his second appearance at the Vortex, Richard Godwin had gently self-deprecating wisecracks teed up and ready to introduce each of his two sets, complete with punchlines:
For the first set, deadpan: "They say you appear at the Vortex twice. Once on your way up and once on your way down. Welcome back." And after the interval: "We hope you've had time to go to the loo and adjust your...expectations."
This verbal facility is scarcely surprising. You would expect a talented 29-year old editor/ feature writer/ columnist at the Evening Standard, surrounded daily by a swarm of healthy egos, to be highly articulate. The unknown here was Godwin as singer-songwriter. He has good presence as a performer, and it will be above all fascinating to follow what directions his lyric-writing and song-writing take.
The opening set was quiet, folky, but beset with problems with amp leads. The songs, with strong hints of Bob Dylan - and, a reliable informant told me - the American singer Elliott Smith, who died tragically young in 2003- have a quiet directness about them. The lyrics paint vivid pictures in few words: winds, windmills, crashed cars, shards of glass. But the vulnerability they appear to portray comes with more than a hint of archness.
He enjoys internal rhymes, with the relish of a Dylan Thomas or a Sondheim. Godwin often delivers with a thinnish voice - like Brecht's - in an insistent monotone, pushing out a repeated dominant on guitar. But he is a very capable guitarist, notably in an episode involving flautando harmonics, or when picking out a clear melody in the tenor register with his elegant, long, thin fingers.
Backing vocalist Amelia Tucker provided subtle support, and the trio of Tom Cawley on piano, Riaan Vosloo on bass and Tim Giles on drums were immaculate.
This trio were more in evidence in Godwin's livelier second set. With their support, Godwin's presence as performer seemed to grow palpably. The opening number "Powerful Message" deserved, and duly got, some really committed applause. It is a song about corporations getting a message about their responsibility across, and seemingly drew on more of Godwin's recent experience. The Financial Times has spent the last three decades lamenting the lack of high quality creative work portraying business culture authentically. This song by Godwin, and whatever follows in its wake, may be an answer such calls.
The strongest performances were kept for the end: a robust and heartfelt rendering of Brel's Au Suivant/ Next, an affectionate song Josie dedicated to his wife, and the final Variety, sung as an encore in duo with Tom Cawley. This song came to an end with the words "I keep coming back for more." Which sounds like a very good idea.