Disclaimer: This review will make scant reference to the back catalogue and biography of its subject, and no reference to the appearance and personal life of the subject. This review will make absolutely no attempt to be informative or objective.
Who needs fireworks?
Dan out of Pilot Whale Research supports. The songs are simple and haunting and the voice is beautiful and pure. He’s joined for half of the short set by a bandmate on synth, for a subtle, textured addition. It’s the perfect compliment for what’s about to come…
The Man Himself demands that I introduce him, just as he’s about to start.
Having nothing prepared, I shout:
“People of Kingsdown!
If you haven’t seen the thing you’re about to see then you won’t have seen anything like the thing you’re about to see.”
Or something weak like that. And then:
“Please welcome, the one and only: Men Diamler.”
(I don’t remember exactly, which is poor, because I don’t like others to misquote me – and here I am doing it to myself….)
Early in the set, MD announces “A crowd pleaser”: It’s Houseache Horse, a song about a horse who lives in a house with a mad musician who starves him and uses his emaciated ribcage as a xylophone.
Yeah. That’s the kind of thing we’re here to see.
Before the gig stars, one of MD’s greatest admirers (who describes himself as “almost a stalker”), tells me that “Everyone talks about his voice, but he’s a great songwriter – I wouldn’t be so much of a stalker if he was just a singer with a great voice.”
I wholeheartedly agree about the song writing. I tell the [speech marks inserted on legal advice] “stalker” that I once saw MD play in a friend’s flat (still one of the best gigs I’ve ever been to), and he had 37 new songs. By the time I went on tour with him a few weeks later, he had 60.
Still, what a voice. Everyone talk about it because it is worth talking about. It’s as powerful whispering as it is wailing. When it’s quiet, I wait for it to explode, or swell to full volume. It doesn’t always. I must have seen this man play at least 30 times, but he still surprises me; no two gigs are even close to being the same.
Having foolishly gone to the toilet, I hear Sunset Beauregard, one of my favourites – I run back out the toilet to hear it, performed a capella at first, then accompanied by a percussive banging of a chair and stamping.
Of all the wooden floors I’ve seen this man stamp on while singing, from Aberdeen to Cheltenham and a few places in between, this could be the last….I really hope it’s not the last.
Gong back to the toilet, I miss a whole song – evidently a short one. I curse my bladder for making me miss a whole song.
Coming back to the room, I think: What would you think if you walked in on this…?
You might feel like you were intruding on an intimate, intense moment between a man and his 35 lovers…you might feel like that. (I wouldn’t.)
The next song is Emily: As soon a it starts, and I recognise it, turn to Macca:
“I might cry.”
He points a camera at me.
I don’t cry, but I’m actually shaking with emotion for most of it.
The guitar is quiet, the chords sad, but played with a steady rhythm that belies the emotional intensity somehow.
When he swears in the song, with a different word to the one on the record, and one I’ve never heard him use in this song, it hits me like a cold-handed slap across the face. Genuinely shocking.
The power of language, the effect of repetition and surprise.
He sings it so quietly as well…..
Nothing I write can do justice to this or the feeling it evokes. When it’s over, I feel like we have all lived through something important, the significance of which we may never quite understand.
If that sounds dramatic, it’s because it bloody well IS.
THIS IS HOW I KNOW ART MATTERS.
There are several covers in the set, some of which I know and some I don’t.
He actually plays Unchained Melody – on the piano. It’s fucking amazing. We wouldn’t expect it, us in the audience, some of us who have seen The Man so many times. He’s surprising everyone tonight, even those aware of his brilliance; as is his wont.
Another crowd pleaser:
“One of these days, I’m gonna feel so much better…..”
we all sing along.
“When I get fucked,
I howl at the moon
And tell him to howl back at you….”
This song is called When I Get Fucked….it’s amazing.
“I wrote a song in Hull – I write one in Berwick as well….” And they are both around twenty seconds long. A bit of the humour that adds edge to the intensity of some of the other songs, and the performance in general.
“Life Is Such A Terrible Thing” is another sing-a-long classic, and I see a few recent (ie, the last 20 minutes) converts joining in. It’s always pleasing when other people get it, without the need for explanation.”
(One time in Preston, MD went for a wander through the crowd. One young lad looked like he might spark him out…but The Singer just kept singing to him, and I saw the youth size up the situation, and in the end he just smiled at him, probably around the time that he realised the singer was only dimly aware of his existence. The Singer creates his own world, and if you want to come in, you are welcome. But please do take your shoes off and don’t talk during the songs. Thank you.)
During Life Is Such A Terrible Thing, MD poses for a picture in front of the antlers hanging on the wall, displaying both a cheeky sense of humour and his innate sense of drama. At another point, he plays the banjo on the wall during a song. It’s a nice comic touch, but the chord actually works – it reminds me of the episode of Tom and Jerry where the cat chases the mouse across a piano keyboard, and every note is musically correct.
When he asks for requests, I shout for Cleeve Hill. It’s not an easy one for him to remember, and “The Stalker” (he’s not a stalker, he’s a very nice man) corrects me on the title. But he does play it, and it reminds me of seeing him play in Cheltenham, many years ago. It stretches his vocals up to the top of his range, and despite his initial apprehension, he is, of course, well up to it.
I also request the song about his dog, but he doesn’t play it. Maybe I’ll try to learn it from him and play it myself. It strikes me that MD is an old-fashioned musician: I learn his songs by listening to him play them. I won’t find the tab or the chords by googling. I won’t even find recordings of most of the songs that way. But I have got a cassette recorded live in Aberdeen, from a field recorder sat on the table in front of me. Somehow it’s poetic, I don’t know. Some people would rubbish that idea, and say “What musician doesn’t want people to hear their music?”
Well, this one does, so shut the fuck up and listen. You’ll hear his music; on his terms.
(I learned most songs that way as a child, it’s part of the folk tradition, and it’s worth keeping up, I’d say – not because I’m a Luddite, but because it’s a good way to keep music alive (ie, changing) and a good skill to have – and it encourages us to play songs to each other.)
“Blizzard, will you sing with me?”
How I have waited to hear these words…
We sing Wild Mountain Thyme – The Byrds version – a capella. I am very flattered, and glad to be asked, but a little bit nervous.
(I hear later from E – and MD – that I was singing quietly, but when I express surprise and say I thought I sang loud enough, E concedes: “Well, quiet compared to Giant Lungs here…” which is fair.)
I also hear later that MD is well aware of more traditional versions, with the Scottish accent and dialect, the ones I know from childhood. For the record, it was called Will Ye Go, Lassie, Go, round our way.
Back to the piano, it’s a Leonard Cohen song – from “Leonard Cohen’s worst album”, produced by Phil Spector. “It’s his best album” heckles a voice from the back.
“Yes!” agrees MD triumphantly, “Everyone says it’s his worst one, but it’s great.”
In the next song, MD invites more heckling, after a fashion:
“Heckle like you’d heckle U2!”
-“Get off my phone!”
“Heckle like you’d heckle Runrig!”
-“ – “
There were several of these, as he warmed to this theme.
The first “last” song of the evening is Port Of Amsterdam. I don’t know who sang this originally, but the only person I have heard perform it is MD, and I’m in no rush to change that, since I assume no one will do it better.
There are several more “last” songs, and then the actual last song is, fittingly for this prolific writer, new. He sings it a capella, resting his head on his arm, crouching to lean on a stool, and it is utterly apt.
Some things can’t be conveyed with words, and the effect of music in general is one of them.
(It doesn’t stop us trying, which is no bad thing)
For me, one of the ineffably beautiful things in life is watching Men Diamler sing in a pub.
I’ll miss you, Old Friend. I hope you get everything you’re looking for.
Do remember us when you’re away.