David Ford and Beth Rowley (Live Review)

There are rooms that are just made for gigs, ideally above a lovely pub and intimate. This is exactly what the legendary Louisiana in Bristol is like and on a night like tonight it feels like a real privilege to be there.

As the small room filled to capacity for the opener Beth Rowley, David Ford took the stage to introduce her and stayed on as her backing band. Somehow despite the headline act being on stage with the support Beth Rowley drew all the focus, with a vocal as strong as hers it is hardly a surprise. As song followed song the set became more and more special, tracks from her new album sound deep and personal proving that sometimes good things come to those who wait a decade. Her older material slips seamlessly amongst the new and unheard and at times encourages the audience to accompany her on vocals duties.

Considering the stage set up is two people, instruments and vocal there is something compelling about the simple set up. The audience stand in relative silence as vocals trawl the depths of emotion in front of often angular guitars. In the vast emotive range Beth Rowley also nods towards vast vocal comparison; from her Bristolian routes with the emotive cracks of Portishead and the soulful openness of Massive Attack to the rich calming sound of Morcheeba. Comparisons continue with the grit of more traditional folk, elements of jazz and soul and a journey through almost every imaginable singer songwriter. Behind vocal lies musicianship which at times channels the fuzz and feedback of shoes gaze and in particular embraces a sound much like Johnny Greenwood on Radiohead’s earlier work. All considered this is a support set of headline quality.

With reverb still ringing through the room Beth Rowley makes way for David Ford, with his second appearance of the stage starting with the kind of building beauty a loop pedal allows. The loop pedal may be the enabler within this situation but the musical proficiency of David Ford is of paramount importance, his sense of rhythm and ability to pick up each instrument that litters the stage and add to the seamless loop is mesmerising. This fascinating multi-instrumentation is almost spellbinding and each time there is a break for a solo song the audience have to take a second to pick their jaws up.

In the solo moments emotions run high, emotive cracks, fragile pauses and tender delicacy create an openness and bond between stage and floor and this is when David Ford is at his best. It sounds almost callous to take such pleasure from someone else’s emotional outpouring but there is something beautiful about way DF conveys his innermost thoughts. As the set progresses the variety increases, the loop pedal is utilised to create layer upon layer of percussion as triangle, shaker, stomp and drums combine with Latin styled digital drums to create a carnival theme, piano and bass and more than one guitar part combine into a haunting melody and throughout every moment of build-up lyrics remain the most important thing.

The set highlight is ‘The shape of the union’ which is as always a beautiful study of complexity, layers build through the loop with knife edge intricacy until the entire song comes crashing down in a wall of noise. The vocals build from fragility to strength and fall away after the wall of sound collapses creating an almost acapella ending, this leaves the audience breathless and completely in awe. Beth Rowley returns to the stage to add layers to the vocal for the finale and the set closes with a slightly surreal cover of an Aretha Franklin and George Michael ‘classic’.

There are few people that can captivate an audience for over an hour, tonight David Ford proved he is one of the best of these few.