SOUL. Looking back at my hastily scribbled notes (quite frankly I was enjoying the show too much to take many) that’s the one word that sums up both this evening and the man himself. From the gentle almost whispered delivery of opening number Breathe through to the slow burning then explosive Roughnecks and Roustabouts (title track of Pete’s essential new album) and on to the moving father and son confessional of Are You Listening? there’s a rawness and passion to much of the material and its performance that’s like looking right into the man’s very heart and soul. Trust Me saw this heart ripped right open tonight “Trust me to fuck it up again” sang Pete with a brutal honesty that’s all too rare in the bullshitty world of showbiz. Take First Real Job too (one of the many standout tracks from the new album and tonight’s gig) a movingly poetic look at life as a 15 year old working in a factory in Oldbury. Faced with the reality of his future seemingly mapped out before him (“So this is it then? Work. Retire. Expire.”), young Pete dreamt of better things (“Fly like and eagle soar like a falcon, high over rooftops above the factory floor”) before eventually ending up as part of one of 1980’s biggest bands of course, Dexys Midnight Runners.
The rest, as they say, is history, albeit an occasionally troubled history as Black (inspired by Pete’s days in Santa Monica) hints at. Subsequent bands The Bureau and These Tender Virtues failed to achieve the great things they deserved (mystifyingly so in the case of the latter band in particular). It’s staggering to think that Pete then didn’t release his first solo album (SEE) until 2012 but I guess that life, love and everything in between just got in the way. Never mind all that though, if making up for lost time was an Olympic event Williams would be a double gold medal winner.
In SEE and Roughnecks and Roustabouts he’s produced a brace of modern classics and as a live performer he’s the perfect combination of confidence and humility, seemingly genuinely humbled by the response this evening as he moved seamlessly from gentle ballads perched on a speaker to testifying rock ‘n’ soul belters. A great vocalist deserves an equally great band of course and Williams has picked some crackers here with Clive Miller (lurking in the shadows in between spots) getting some particularly well deserved whoops of applause for his harmonica solos.
After a thoroughly well deserved standing ovation Pete returned for an emotionally charged Suddenly Shattered before ending on a high with Cincinnati Kid, part Sinatra, part Mack The Knife, it was a truly swaggering show stopper of a performance that spontaneously roused the entire audience as one to their feet once more.
Williams may have been a key contributor to the most recent incarnation of Dexys responsible for the critically acclaimed One Day I’m Going To Soar album but as a solo artist, well, clearly that day’s already here.
PS: You can buy both albums right here, right now. Roughnecks is coming out on vinyl too! Vinyl, trust me, it's the future...