Having pulled out of their 2016 show at the Lending Room Leeds due to illness, this was a long awaited return and with Leonard himself promising “exquisite delays” there was an air of expectation from the gathered few, and indeed just a few it was. In fact so few that Leonard expressed concerns that the rabid overcrowding could be a health and safety risk, safe in the understanding his comment would not be misconstrued as sincere. Consequently the staff went and found various different seats, stools and in one case a deckchair and this soiree of Leonard without his band became a bona fide ‘Saint Leonard’s Horses Unplugged (Untethered?)’ set. Had there been a campfire the expectation would have been for Kumbaya to be first on the the setlist but instead, those of us who remained, were treated to an intimate evening with short explanations of the origins of songs, witty quips and insights into Keiran Leonard’s life. In short, we already have the album, we now have some of the accompanying stories too and a sideways glance into the remarkable life which has led the protagonist to this point in his own story. This tale in all its glory will be seen sometime next year when ‘A Muse’, Leonard’s first semi autobiographical novel is due for completion as long as his work with the Horses recording their second album doesn’t get in the way. From Ireland to the Yorkshire Moors, to Hollywood and the Mojave desert back to Stanley Kubrick’s estate and most recently to the National Concert Hall in Dublin with a full choir it is a story that surely needs documenting for the sake of posterity.
The setlist reflected the acoustic nature of the evening and there were plenty from Kieran Leonard’s only album sans Horses as well as stripped down versions from the excellent Good Luck Everybody. Playing for around an hour a makeshift set of songs not often played this way we got to see the delicate nature of the man. Grimacing as he attempted to get his fingers in a particularly tricky position for one song (apparently it cost them £10k trying to convert it back to the guitar it was written on having been translated for a piano, which failed, hence it wasn’t played on guitar often), smiling afterwards that he only forgot the words three times, joking about the gathered throngs (sic). We met Leonard on stage; not Saint Leonard with his Horses, maybe not even Saint Leonard himself, we met the man behind the mask, the man who changed his name in response to a tarot reading, the man who left Yorkshire and then woke up six weeks later in Hollywood, the man beset by demons both real and imagined, many of his own making and we are the better for it.
Having released one of GIGsoup’s best albums of 2016 it is an absolute travesty that quality music alone doesn’t sell tickets to see Saint Leonard’s Horses live. The required marketing, social media and the pernicious reach of TV ‘talent’ shows have reduced the music industry to one where the not talent but salesmanship and mainstream mediocrity can be the primary drivers. Release anything which has more than a surface to scratch, something faintly dangerous with hidden potentially subversive agendas and you are destined to drive three hours in a hire car up the M1 with your manager to sing to 15 people.
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Is an evening with Saint Leonard akin to having a campfire singalong with the Moonies? No, it’s far more spiritual than that but with jokes too and a real sense of sincerity and authenticity.
As the small crowd in the Lending Room dispersed one was left with the feeling that the authors whose books once inhabited this area of The Library would have approved of this evening’s entertainment. No fervent hushing from librarians tonight, instead the enthusiastic, appreciative approval of a few people who have waited for some time for this moment, no need for rapturous cheering, the thanks was passed on personally and with just a handshake. On a personal note, my wife walked down the aisle to the opening strains of ‘Goddess of Electric Gold’ and the memory of the man who wrote and recorded it to dedicate it to her and explain where he was when he wrote it will be with me always.