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Review: Bonnie Prince Billy and Trembling Bells

By This is Cornwall  |  Posted: May 03, 2012

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Bonnie Prince Billy and Trembling Bells

The Acorn, Penzance

Review by Lee Trewhela

IT’S quite astonishing that an American musician often dubbed this generation’s Dylan honoured a small venue in Penzance with his presence.

But there he was. A man you’d usher your kids away from in the park proved to be one of the most charismatic singers I’ve seen for years. The audience, to a check shirt-wearing, hirsute man and woman, couldn’t keep its eyes off him.

Support band Muldoon’s Picnic, a harmony group from Glasgow, with added members Alex Neilson and Lavinia Blackwall from headliners Trembling Bells sang a range of world folk tunes. It was spine-tingling stuff despite veering dangerously close to finger-in-ear, Arran sweater territory. There should be more songs about self-immolation.

After an audience-ignoring brief appearance on an a capella support piece, Will “Bonnie Prince Billy” Oldham sauntered on looking for all the world like the Kentucky backwoods vagrant he so obviously isn’t – perfectly domed bald head, grizzly beard, intense eyes and, completing the look, black nail varnish.

But this was no solo show; he was in Cornwall to run through recent album, The Marble Downs, with Glasgow-based Trembling Bells (basically as an excuse to visit Padstow’s Obby Oss May day celebration earlier in the week).

The result was a series of acid-fried folk rock love/hate duets with the soaring, pure English voice of Blackwall wonderfully juxtaposed with Oldham’s cracked country croon.

Whether singing with a weird stoop, enjoying a little jig, staring-out the crowd, muttering to himself, or making his eyebrows dance, he was mesmerising.

It was pretty varied stuff – from The Fall-like garage strut of Ain’t Nothing Wrong With A Little Longing to the hushed Excursions Into Assonance (words courtesy of Dorothy Parker), which showed that when Oldham allows himself, he can sing with breathtaking passion.

From the psyche-ragga opener, Robin Gibbs’ Lord Bless All, to the wry wink of the traditional vocal-only My Husband’s Got No Courage In Him and the glorious Bad Seeds-on-bad drugs retread of Oldham’s Palace Brothers’ song Riding, there were some spectacular moments.

Some dodgy mixing meant parts of the audience couldn’t make out the vivid lyrics, but this rare chance to see arguably the world’s greatest living cult musician didn’t disappoint.

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