Earlier in the year, on the recommendation of my Uncle, my wife and I went to a small church in Windsor to watch a couple of singer songwriters – Luke Jackson headlining, with Steve Pledger in support. I’d heard neither, but my Uncle is never wrong with his recommendations. It was a lovely intimate venue, full of friendly people anticipating a good gig. My expectations were not particularly high, but the tickets had not been expensive, and I was just glad to be out of an evening with my wife. It proved to be a great night, with both guys on top form. Steve Pledger blew us away though. At the interval I could not get up quick enough to say hello and buy his CD.
This may explain why at the weekend I put in 300+ miles in the car, 5 hours of driving, just to see him play live again. The venue was the beautiful and intimate Hope Hall in Exeter. It is a hidden gem out in the suburbs of Exeter, tucked down an alleyway near to Exeter Hospital, and full of wonderful artwork. My Uncle was promoting the gig, so I got to help set up (though mostly just got in the way) and listen to the sound check. My children (7 & 4) both love Steve’s album, but occasionally get the odd detail wrong. In ‘Abstention Song’, Steve sings about “two-faced lying hypocrites”, which my son believed to be “toothpaste flying hypocrites”. Steve was tickled enough to play that version in his warm up, and then told the audience about it in the gig itself.
I’ve been lucky enough to sit through a lot of gigs. Rarely have I been disappointed, but then rarely have I seen one of those gigs. You know the ones. You can’t stop talking about them, and you want everybody to appreciate what they missed. By the end, you aren’t thinking of the journey home and a warm bed, you are genuinely gutted when the performance ends and the lights come up. Steve played a one song encore (a hugely impressive cover of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’), and it just wasn’t enough. Had he played on for a further two hours, it still would not have been enough. This one definitely one of those gigs for me.
From the moment he hit that first note on ‘Back to the Beginning’, he had the whole audience in the palm of his hand, many of whom were hearing him for the first time. The first half was a mixture of emotional gut punches like ‘Remembering Mr Perrin’ and ‘Friends & Fathers’, and lighter songs such as ‘Ain’t No Love Song’. There was even a bit of audience participation on ‘Poundland’, a lament to the changing face of the High Street. The second half was a similar mix, with the heartbreakingly beautiful Love Bess a definite highlight, along with my personal favourite, ‘In My Better Moments’.
In the flesh, Steve has great stage presence. His music is unashamedly serious, but he is also humble and self-deprecatory. His message is a simple one; we have to be serious about what we want to be changed. In his introduction to ‘Love Bess’, he said that the song was about death, no surprise there, but that it was also about hope. In that one comment he encapsulates what is so good about his songs. They are serious, but they contain such hope for a better future. They challenge the shallow preoccupations of our society, talk of a desire to see real change, and a belief that this change is possible (‘Beneath the Sun’, ‘The Spirit of What Ought to Be’).
The plan is for this to become perhaps an annual event, and certainly there will be a repeat next year. If that happens, I cannot recommend coming along highly enough. It is a night that will live long in my memory. Steve also has a tour coming up with the wonderful Ange Hardy, which will be well worth going along to – http://www.stevepledger.co.uk/gigs.
I’m off now to badger local music venues to book him for a gig. If that doesn’t work, I may just have to do what my Uncle did and arrange/promote one myself. Who’s in?