John Paul White Is Fucking A (Review: Bush Hall, London, 8 Nov 2016)

I was a fan of The Civil Wars the second I heard “Poison & Wine” on Grey’s Anatomy (yeah, I’m a god damned cliché), so when they called off their 2012 European tour mid-way through, I hoped there’d be some mind-changing, that they’d reconcile eventually. But I don’t hope that anymore. Beulah is the album of the year by a country mile, and John Paul White’s sold out 2016 London gig was better than Ben Affleck’s Batman physique.

As if anyone needed a reason to fall a little bit in love with the musician, JPW revealed a couple secrets in London last night. #1: He grew up more of a Sabbath man, than a country fan. #2: When he flew back to the States in 2012 after The Civil Wars tour got cut short, he thought he’d never write again. Like, seriously, which is pretty hard to believe.

Having not enjoyed the other solo post-The Civil Wars offerings, I wasn’t sure I’d like what JPW did next. But as bae will attest, Beulah‘s been played on repeat since the record came out on Aug 19. The Guardian‘s three star review doesn’t do JPW justice, though its summation, that Beulah is “spectacularly gloomy and bitter“, is not wrong. Lyrically, some songs are a big fuck you, totally visceral, meat fat you’ve chewed but can’t swallow. It’s stripped, written 100% by White in the space of a week, and infused with everything that made The Civil Wars great.

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Live, JPW is everything I hoped, and more. Having seen one of his last gigs with The Civil Wars, in Gateshead in 2012, his Beulah show was far removed from the man on stage back then. Bush Hall continues to be such a great venue, particularly for folk and country shows, because its intimacy allows a direct conversation, one which White was ready to engage in. Between songs, he revealed inspirations, reasons for hiatus, surprise at the reception he was receiving, and repeated thanks that the audience had turned out at all. But of course we did; JPW is fucking A.

Some tracks, White played solo, his guitar the only accompaniment necessary to knot our esophaguses up (just me?). For others, he was joined by a band member, also an incredible musician, who helped bring Beulah to life for the room. “Hope I Die” has fast become a fan favorite on this tour, and I speak for the entirety of the room when I say we all sweated a little more during last night’s performance. The track sears and snaps, its lyrics a shock on first listen, but soon it’s a conspiratorial event in which the audience is implicit.

It shouldn’t be surprising to hear that writing Beulah kept John Paul White up at night. It’s strange to hear that he was more than comfortable out of the limelight, and if he’d never written again, he’d have been OK with that. As a writer, JPW is unrivalled; Damien Rice wishes he could write tracks like the Alabama native. But that effortlessness, along with literary lines that make a poet pudding-thick in envy, is un-purchasable from Walmart. But JPW has it, and thank fuck he’s back from hiatus, because 2016’s been a shit-show that I wouldn’t repeat for a trillion, and Beulah‘s been everything.

Huge thanks to Reed Watson for making the fan experience above and beyond. I don’t doubt I was a dick when I met JPW post-show, but his generosity with gig attendees is one of the reasons White is unparalleled. In conversation after, I told White how happy he seemed compared to 2012. He said he was glad that it showed, that he doesn’t want to tour unless he feels compelled to do it. If he’s leaving his family for extended periods of time, it has to be for good reason, and the same goes for making music. I respect his honesty, and the fact that he waited to record songs until he had something that needed saying. Most would’ve felt the bandwagon impulse.

jpw-amy

This is why people think I’m a weird and creepy blogger & not a professional writer. This.

Thanks also to Bush Hall, and in particular Sophie Asquith, whose eyes are accessibility-focused. You make attending gigs with disabilities way smoother, and more venues should follow suit.

The adjectives used to describe Beulah may range from violent to regretful via a brimming jar of vengeance, but John Paul White seems anything but. He’s back in the best way – authentically – and I hope it’s for the long haul.

Images: John Paul White/YouTube; Laura Hol; tcwfans, magical-courage/Tumblr


amy mackelden photoAmy Mackelden is an Entertainment Writer at Bustle, and has written for heat magazine, New Statesman, Kinkly, The Independent onlinexoJane, and Hello Giggles. Her book, Adele: The Other Side, is out now.

Amy co-founded poetry magazine Butcher’s Dog, and is co-editor of Clarissa Explains Fuck All. Her new theatre show, MS Is My Boyfriend, is funded by Arts Council England, and she’s a recipient of the Artists’ International Development Fund Round 13. Ian Harding is a bird watcher?

 

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One thought on “John Paul White Is Fucking A (Review: Bush Hall, London, 8 Nov 2016)

  1. Really nice review – it was a great show – just a really great vibe (apart from the drunk people near me talking loudly – never understand this). Wish i’d thought of something more useful to say to him after the show – I saw the Civil wars support James Vincent McMorrow and for some insane reason, did not go and buy their album and get it signed/get a photo at the time – really regretted that, i wanted to mention that, but mentioning Civil Wars really seemed to be an elephant in the room and didn’t want to make it any more awakward than the hand shake i tried, lol!

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