What was this?
Union Chapel is a functioning church that provides services not only of the religious type. A music venue, a community centre, and a place of worship, its navy blue luminescent spire beckons one inside – it was here that John Smith held forth, preaching, in a manner, to those congregated to share in the splendour of his music. Not to mention it was the biggest gig of Smith’s life.
And what’s it like?
The anticipation with which one waits for a musician like Smith to take the stage is tantalising – this nervous energy was only increased tenfold by the powerful vibe of Union Chapel. People filed into pews dutifully, speaking in hushed tones as if awaiting Sunday sermon. At 8:45pm Smith took the stage to thunderous applause. As if unaware of the crowd, Smith stared out for a moment – a small, seemingly appreciative and awestruck smile gracing his bearded face. He then launched into ‘There is a Stone’, and with barely a breath’s pause he flowed seamlessly into ‘Freezing Winds of Change’. It was only after the two opening songs that Smith acknowledged the crowd – from that point on, his charming, slightly nervous, humorous rambles interjected between each song became a glimpse into the musician’s inner workings: “I can’t believe you’ve all turned up…!”
Each song showcased a different aspect of Smith’s innumerable talents – from his narrative lyrics (‘Axe Mountain’) to his complex string arrangements (‘Forever to the End’). Stand out numbers were encore number ‘Winter’, where his unparalleled finger-picking and ear for rhythm were on full display, and ‘Salty & Sweet’, with an appearance by Lisa Hannigan. ‘England Rolls Away’ enthralled the audience’s ears as Smith’s powerful voice filled the hall easily, and he often stepped away from the microphone to let the chapel’s acoustics carry his vocals. In the midst of these soul-stirring songs, Smith took the time to thank his audience. Like all devout worshipers in awe of a preacher’s command, the audience had become enraptured by Smith’s music. After Smith’s ‘Great Lakes’, the audience leapt to its feet in a standing ovation, and again for his final number ‘Lungs’.
What’s the final verdict?
Union Chapel is a spectacular venue, one that commands an artist of equal measure to wield it. Smith proved to be such an artist. It was a divine evening, and undoubtedly a herald of great things to come his way.