Sometimes you've just got to shut-the-fuck-up and listen.
In the early 80's, my mate Paul and I used to travel the land watching Roy Harper on tour. We didn't go to every gig, we weren't groupies or stalkers, but if he did a tour we'd try and get to 3 or 4 gigs. We'd jump into Paul's old Escort van and bugger off to Scarborough or Mold or Buxton, or whichever modestly sized, provincial podium the old coot was playing in.
We were generally armed with little more than a few quid and a small yoghurt, liberally laced with hash, that we ate about half an hour before we got to town. This simple but efficient plan only backfired once when we ate the yoghurt before getting lost in Blackpool and had to stop the car on the promenade to allow a family of ducks to cross the road, apparently heading from an amusement arcade to the beach. To this day, neither of us know if it really happened.
We'd finally make the gig, all mellowed and bloodshot, take a seat on the dusty theatre seat/school chair/sticky floor amongst our fellow fish and chippies and await the arrival of the man himself. He's an acquired taste, Roy Harper. Typically English, eccentric, typically untypical. I saw him probably 15 – 20 times over a space of 4 or 5 years and I cannot think of a single gig where there wasn't some dick who was either bored or drunk or both, who just wasn't on the same yoghurt as everybody else. A wise-cracker, a witless heckler, a hapless wanker who, for some reason, believed that we'd all paid our 4 quid to watch them perform.
I imagine all Tom McRae gigs are the same. I've only seen him once, in Katwijk of all places (neem me niet kwalijk, lieve Kattukkers) where he suffered from that other major bane of the solo/mellow performer - the noisy bar. For God's sake people, go to a pub!
I like a Super-Dortmunder as much as the next man, in fact probably as much as the next two men if I'm being honest, and I don't expect you to mime your order to the bar-staff, but I don't get shitted with my mates and go down the library. I don't go to the theatre or the church, and I don't burst in on pre-natal yoga classes singing Show Me The Way To Amarillo. Not when I'm drunk anyway.
You may have already given up hope, but there is a point here and that is that to make and perform this kind of music you need pretty big cahoneys. 90% of bands don't need to worry about the lack of attention paid by audiences, the music's good and loud, people can dance and let off energy. 9 times out of 10 there could be a minor train accident in the front row and nobody would even notice, and that's brilliant. But sometimes you've just got to shut-the-fuck-up and listen.
This is the simple message that applies to All Maps Welcome. For a start the guy's a poet. He can put across coherent ideas and emotions in an almost visible way simply by using words. Add to that the tone and textures of his voice and the considerate and considerable backing of his band and it makes for a potent mixture.
The songs themselves don't hide too many secrets with regard to their form, but the arrangements are often very shadowy and subtle, there's something both illusive and elusive about them. Tom goes all the way from breathless, croaking whimper to Brian Blessed's big brother, Oli Krauss' cello goes all the way from diesel–powered, buffalo-mincing machine to.................ermmm............ cello. There is beautiful balance, and minor disc(h)ord, introspection and out-pourings.
Compared with Just Like Blood, his last album release, I'd say that there is a little less hope, I don't mean in a commercial way (although it might also be true), it just feels sadder. I love sad.
I'm not going to go through the songs one by one, they are of such a consistently high standard. I think that, for some people, the consistent, mellow, melancholy mood might become a problem, but if you're the sort of person who can shut-the-fuck-up for ½ an hour or so and just listen, then you're on to a winner with Tom McRae.