“This goes out to all the psychedelic youth of Wales; let’s do this!”
There’s a duality about Ryley Walker’s stage presence. On one hand there’s the seriously intense guitar-wielding songsmith channelling the spirit of transatlantic sixties folk and seventies Van Morrison styled arrangements. The persona falls apart when the song ends, though. “Come to Chicago, I’ll show you all the shit-hole bars where I wrote these songs,” he rambled into the microphone while performing some minor tuning peg adjustments, betraying his usual moody old-worldly swagger.
Reports had it that the wistful troubadour was also spotted performing a session in Rough Trade’s record store marquee, downing cans of beer at breakneck speed with bottle of whisky also close at hand. Ryley’s more audacious side could be a hangover from what he describes as the “noisey weirdo basement scene” he grew up with in Chicago. His musical past was not the only experience of the “Windy City” which he brought to the show, however. “It’s gonna take a hurricane to stop this,” came his defiant reproach after a guitar clattered down from its stand with a particularly savage gust of Welsh wind, upsetting a cymbal in the process.
Circumstances were conspiring against Ryley. The quite predictable heckle “Play Solid Air!” came from somewhere in the crowd mid-show during a brief lull in the music, causing a repressed yet perceptible scowl on the embattled tunesmith’s face, before he launched into another dreamy folk-rock epic from his much lauded new LP ‘Golden Sings That Have Been Sung’. The gloomy, ebbing ‘Sullen Mind’ and the jammed-out guitar excursions of the anthemic, almost phoenix-like ‘The Roundabout’ were particularly shining examples of Ryley’s mettle as a performer.
The stripped-back live line-up was sometimes restrictive of the material, though. The upright bass, keyboard flourishes and overlayed guitars of Ryley’s studio albums were reduced to a standard rhythm section, losing some of the classic folk timbre. The lush cellos and violins in ‘Funny Thing She Said’ were absent, and the vibraphone jangle and jazzy double bass stomp was also missing from the closer ‘Summer Dress’, leaving the arrangements a little sparse.
Consequently, it was Ryley’s dazzling solo guitar jaunts, showcasing his impeccable command of the fretboard and evoking guitar picking greats like Bert Jansch and John Fahey, which nearly stole the show. The signature tune ‘Primrose Green’ was also greeted with much appreciative hoo-hah upon its vivid absinthian rendition.
This Ryley Walker article was written by Tadgh Shiels, a GIGsoup contributor. Photography by Daisy Jones