Gig & Album Review – Striking Matches In The Wind

Striking Matches In The Wind Launch Concert, Dunster, 14th March 2015

I’ve been lucky enough to see Steve Pledger perform live a few times now. I saw him support Luke Jackson in Windsor, and saw him produce an electrifying performance in Exeter. Both of those nights will live long in the memory. However, the launch night for Steve’s second album, Striking Matches In The Wind, was on another level entirely.

The Tithe Barn in Dunster was a great venue for Steve, with a beauty that was the perfect accompaniment to his lyrics. He threw himself confidently into the gig, kicking off with a couple of old favourites from his first album, 14 Good Intentions, before introducing the audience to his new songs. Steve has always had great stage presence, but at the launch he was immense. We often hear X-Factorisms strewn around like wedding confetti, but it has to be said that Steve owned that stage. This was the performance of a man at ease with what he’s doing, equally comfortable with explaining the stories behind the songs as he was singing them.

That’s not to say he was strutting around like a Jagger or a Williams. Steve remains very humble, and grateful to be able to share his songs with a wider audience. His voice is a marvel, with the vocal work on quiet emotional pieces like Remembering Mr Perrin, or Friends and Fathers, almost unrecognisable from the vocals on the more powerful In My Better Moments, or A Heart Filled With Nothing To Do.

A key difference to other gigs I have seen Steve perform in, is the guest musicians who added so much to both the night and the album. Tanya Allen played the fiddle on A Heart Filled With Nothing To Do, while Giles Newman Turner performed harmonica on the “anti-austerity boogie” Quit Blubbin In The Cheap Seats. Guest of the night had to be the sublimely talented Ange Hardy, who harmonised with Steve on There We Are, and they followed up with a folk ditty, Sing John Ball, which had the entire audience singing along.

That is not to take away at all from Steve’s performance. He had the entire audience captured, hanging off his every word. During his two love songs, Loving Condescension and Days Like These, there was not a hint of movement. In the days preceding the gig, I’d had to do a lot of travelling, including trips to Cyprus and Spain. Factor in the four and a half hours of driving to get to Dunster (via Exeter), and I was concerned about being too tired to properly enjoy the show. I needn’t have worried. I could have sat through it all over again. The single song encore was not enough.

With the radio play the album is getting, Steve Pledger is deservedly soon to be a name recognised by many. He is going to be exceptionally busy and much in demand. If you get the chance, do yourself a favour and go and see him. He’s poised to become very hot property indeed.

http://www.stevepledger.co.uk/events/2015

Striking Matches In The Wind album review

I should start by saying how much I loved Steve Pledger’s first album, 14 Good Intentions. It is easily one of my favourite albums, and I’ve listened to it many times. Partly this is because it is a family favourite – the most requested album from my children on any long journey. I love the simplicity of it. Effectively it is one man and a guitar, singing the most beautiful soulful songs. The man that is, not the guitar. A singing guitar would be weird.

I was looking forward to picking up the new album, though I have to admit I was also feeling a sense of trepidation. It wouldn’t be the first time I’d have bought the follow up to a beloved album and been left with a feeling of crushing disappointment. I’d been lucky enough to hear 3 or 4 of the songs during Steve’s live gigs, and they certainly boded well, but there was a little nagging doubt in my mind. Would any song on there really be able to go toe to toe with In My Better Moments, a song that I’ve adopted as my own personal anthem? Would he be able to sing anything as achingly beautiful as Love, Bess; or as rip-roaringly rocking as Experience Is Cheap; or as meaningful as The Abstention Song?

Simply put, 14 Good Intentions surely could not be equalled?

I was right. Striking Matches In The Wind is not the equal of the first album. It has surpassed it in every way. This album is a game changer for Steve Pledger, as proved by the amount of radio airplay it is getting.

As I’ve already said, I LOVE the first album. It feels like a live performance captured on CD, without the annoying crowd noise you get on live CD’s. I can’t deny that the production on Striking Matches is a real step up however – Nigel Neill has done a fantastic job (and he clearly has very photogenic hands). The entire album sounds amazing. The calibre of musicians performing with Steve on this album is very high. The highly rated Lukas Drinkwater really lifts the songs he performs on with his double bass. The fiddle work of Tanya Allen is likewise a superb addition, especially on the hauntingly wonderful A Heart Filled With Nothing To Do. Giles Newman Turner is a perfect addition on Quit Blubbin In The Cheap Seats, his harmonica accompanies Steve’s guitar and vocal work so well.

Also appearing on the album, singing with Steve on There We Are, is Ange Hardy. She has (deservedly) been nominated for, and won, so many awards of late that I was surprised not to see her at the Oscars this year. Her music is unashamedly folky, and utterly wonderful to listen to. Go listen to the first song on her first album, I Wish from Windmills and Wishes. I’ll wait… see, told you it was wonderful. That is just track one, album one. I know, right? But I digress.

The album is full of gems – all killer, no filler. Does anything go toe to toe with In My Better Moments? Yes, pretty much every song, and especially Scared Inside. Does he sing anything as achingly beautiful as Love, Bess? Yes, take your pick. Personally I think Friends and Fathers is hard to beat on that score. Quit Blubbin In The Cheap Seats surpasses Experience Is Cheap for a foot tapping brilliance. If you want meaningful you are spoiled for choice, but Beneath The Sun, The Parable Of Intent and Matches In The Wind should satisfy your cravings.

There are even a couple of love songs thrown in for good measure, though Steve apparently doesn’t write love songs. Loving Condescension and Days Like These are two of the best love songs I’ve heard in a very long time. I particularly adore the guitar riff on the latter, though having seen him perform this one live at the launch concert it looks bloody hard to pull off. Not one I’ll be attempting any time soon.

Once again there are key themes that run throughout the album. The first album was a fervent wish for something better, an urge to move away from apathy, and in many ways that theme continues in Striking Matches. “There must be more,” he sings in Beneath The Sun, a line which could have come from the first album. This Land Is Pound Land is about the changing face of the High Street, and how we’ve lost something important in our constant search for value for money, “But you get what you pay for, and we’re paying now”.

There is a subtle difference here though. If I had to sum it up in a word, I’d say it was altruistic. This starts with the first song on the album, People Who Care, about being there for a friend who feels isolated. “The good that comes begins with you and me,” he sings in Beneath The Sun. The Parable of Intent is a conversation between man and the Earth, and that it’s easy to talk a noble game, but if we do not back up those words with our actions, it is a meaningless gesture.

When the album ends with Matches In The Wind, it would appear almost as if he’s given up; that he recognises that nothing we do makes a difference. We’re all just striking matches in the wind. That’s not the message here, however. The last lines of the album reveal a more hopeful stance, that we cannot let the prevailing wind stop us from giving more of ourselves. We should all be more altruistic.

“And it feels like striking matches in the wind,

But as long as these sparks fly our fire will not die

We’re striking matches in the wind.”

My only slight gripe is that the album is just too damn short. 12 songs, 50 minutes… I want more, Steve, there must be more. I’m greedy like that.

Of course Steve has made life a bit more difficult for himself with this album. If the third album is at least as good, if not better than Striking Matches In The Wind (which it will be), and then the fourth, and then the fifth… well… I don’t envy him when it comes to narrowing down to just a few songs for his future Best Of album.

Striking Matches In The Wind is released on 2nd April 2015, and is available for pre-order via http://www.stevepledger.co.uk/.

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