Sunday, 14 October 2012


Having been following his music and live video output for a while now, I arrived at Luke Jackson’s headline gig at Rugby Roots Club with rather high expectations. Admittedly, I knew full well he would deliver on each and every one. Suitably prepared to be wowed, he nevertheless managed to blow my expectations right out of the water with an outstanding performance that was nothing less than perfection. Days later and I’m still picking myself up off the floor after being knocked for six by the sheer force of exuberant power on show.     

Starting with the opening track from his debut album, More Than Boys, even I feel a little lost for words at how phenomenal his voice sounded right from the off with Run and Hide. Demonstrating remarkable professionalism there was no need to warm up and get into the swing of things. With an almighty BOOM, I was hit dead on from the first second he began strumming his guitar and the first words to pass his lips. The vocals were faultless throughout the evening but to start with the strength he did makes you instantly aware of the clout he has. Something he will no doubt continue building from through what can only end up being an incredibly successful music career. Indeed, with being so darn good at this young age, I’m struggling to see how it will be possible to get any better. I’m looking forward to seeing how he does it though, because one thing this gig proved is he has a staying power far beyond much I’ve seen from others his age.

Following this sensational start he played a medley of songs patched together consisting of an inspired and wonderful mix of stripped back well-knowns. From U2’s I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For to The Animals’ classic, House of the Rising Sun, the way he makes these flow so effortlessly into each other as one is just sublime. Yes, medleys do this I know but you just watch Luke play this live and you’ll see something different; something special. Always refreshing to see.

Entertaining us with stories about the songs he featured provided a sense of the person behind the music which helps anchor an audience. Joking how rock and roll he was by dedicating the song Kitchener Road to his grandmother, he wrote this after hearing about the name of the road where she once lived after she went back to see what it was like after so many years away. It is a real contemplative number. Then there was reminiscence of a different sort when introducing a song originally written for his college band, The Fox Patrol. Home Is Where The Heart Is may have been completely stripped back for this acoustic show but his ability to alter songs to suit his particular set the way he does, further shows his praiseworthy skills. That said, I’m genuinely excited about hearing the livelier band version, ‘Me and the band go a little bit crazy with that there at the end,’ he commented after it, or words to that effect.

Naturally, many of the songs are about being young and growing up and yet they are written with a reflective maturity that can grab a hold of listeners of any age or at any stage in their lives. For instance, How Does It Feel is about kids growing up and going off into the world to live their lives, but written from the perspective of the parent. It is heartfelt and poignant with a beautifully gentle melody no doubt emphasised all the more when experienced live. Enticing a knowing smile, it features mentions about the things all parents warn their children not to do but things they did and do themselves.  
As brilliant as Bakers Woods is with its youthful simplicity detailing those childhood days climbing trees with friends, it has a slight tinge of melancholy being a reflection on those days long since gone. Being one of his earliest songs it contrasts quite drastically with one of the most recent, Fumes and Faith. This alone shows why Luke has got in abundance, whatever it is that will lead to a very long and successful career. It is a masterfully crafted song with lyrics written from direct razor sharp observation about the state of youth and society as it currently descends into someplace we’d rather it didn’t go to.

The first half was bought to a close with two songs from the aforementioned album. The penultimate Last Train is about a soldier returning home with the heavy weight of how he is going to break the news of his compatriot’s death to his family, a deed he’d promised he would carry out. Luke takes you right into the heart of this scenario and his voice carries the associated emotion superbly. He really makes you live through the cavalcade of feelings. The recorded version is moving enough but up close in his presence, I dare you not to be moved by the resulting performance.

As high as the quality already was, it only increased as the second half kicked off with some rip-roaring riffs courtesy of Fathers Footstep Blues. It was a number that really got the feet and legs a-moving to its deep bluesy rhythm. As if by magic the leagues rolled by on the trail of those riffs with Luke’s dexterous guitar playing fuelling the travel. We weren’t in Rugby anymore but in some dusty blues bar across the Atlantic. It was flawless and so captivating to watch. Whether showcasing more originals from the album like Let It All Out, Big Hill and More Than Boys or playing brand new tunes like the beautiful lamenting love ballad Mary May, everyone was hypnotised by the high calibre of this musical mastermind.

Luke even approaches his cover versions with an innovative flair. I loved his reworking of Sting’s I Hung My Head. While remaining a tribute to the original version, it is nonetheless completely original in and of itself. He managed the same with his rendition of Lonely Boy by the Black Keys in which he exercised the higher end of his remarkable vocal range to glorious effect.

In sum, Luke went so far beyond amazing, amazing was little more than the tiniest speck of a dot to us all there sitting in the cosy room at The Merchant Inn. The venue was wonderfully atmospheric with a crisp and quality sound system, adding to the overall perfection. It created a real intimate ambience, capturing the mood beautifully. Host Richard Barnes made a very valid point at the end of the night when he talked about the kind of quality Luke possesses. This was a chance to catch a small, intimate gig with a rising star of tomorrow because there’s no doubt this hugely talented Canterbury lad will be moving on to huge things. I can appreciate why he fits so well into the Roots categories but be under no illusions, already applying the kind of thoughtful and mature style to his songwriting together with a refreshing originality he is destined to entertain far beyond traditional folkists. It certainly came as no surprise he has been nominated for next year’s BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award. With performances like this one, his fellow nominees have a lot of work to do if they even want to get close to where he’s at.

Certainly no stranger to the live circuit, this gig however was a way for Luke to further test his rapturous rapport with an audience. To trial what his headline shows will be like and consist of. He nailed it that’s for sure. Luke has the confidence, charisma and the abilities to do this night after night to growing crowds. It’s pretty obvious this is what’s going to happen. All the more helped along by continuing to open for well known and respected artists like Martyn Joseph, Steve Knightley and Show of Hands, exposing him to greater numbers of people.

Even with twenty three numbers I didn’t want it to be over but one thing is for certain, I feel privileged to have been in attendance for such a rare and special evening of exemplary musicianship. I honestly cannot wait for the next time. As remarkable a breakthrough as More Than Boys is and all the well-deserved attention it is receiving, I must make clear there is so much more to Luke Jackson one can and MUST experience. So to finish I’ll break this down into points:

1.      If you don’t have them go and buy his EP Run& Hide and the debut album, More Than Boys. (Or via iTunes - Run & Hide - More Than Boys.)
2.  Get connecting via his website, by keeping updated at his Facebook page and subscribe to the YouTube page.
3.   Get yourself to a show and soon! He is about to embark on a 30 date tour supporting Martyn Joseph so there is no excuse for you to miss out!

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