In general I’m not a huge fan of bands releasing a re-recorded version of one of their own records. At the upper end of the industry it reeks of commercial cash-ins and creative stagnation, and lower down it can feel like an act who split their own audience not quite sticking to their guns, as they fart out a stripped back acoustic version of a record that didn’t get the reception they’d hoped for. But these things are totally subjective of course, and if you end up on the wrong side of your hero’s creative instincts, then the idea of them returning to the oven with largely the same set of ingredients doesn’t seem so bad after all, does it? Everyone loves a crumby metaphor.
Listening to 2018’s Yawn, I just couldn’t get into it. Anticipation had been high – Bill Ryder-Jones’ previous album, West Kirby County Primary, is rightly acknowledged as a minor masterpiece –and I was ready for more of the same: emotionally direct songwriting, leavened with a bit of wordplay and a belter of an ear for melody that tied the whole thing together. On Yawn the former Coral guitarist leans into his appreciation of the grungier end of the indie spectrum; it’s pacy and rich in distortion, but the production feels a bit uneven, and it’s not my cup of tea. Oh well, move on.
Or not! He returned this year with a reimagined version, entitled Yawny Yawn (Yawn is also the name of the studio that he co-runs in West Kirby). Although it’s still a difficult listen in places, the stripped back arrangements give him a chance to demonstrate his considerable ability on the keys, and, most importantly, allow the songs to breathe. And Then There’s You clocks in at 4.35 on Yawn; here it takes nearly 8 minutes to unfold. Where the combination of ‘my mistress, my mistrust’ is easily missed on the original, cloaked as it is in a lazy northern drawl, now the dark joke is repeated, ramping up the impact.
Which all brings us neatly to an October Monday in the CCA. Thrust into tonight’s graveyard support slot is Brooke Bentham. Brooke trades in lovelorn, country-tinged rock balladry. Julia Jacklin feels like an easy reference point. The guitar work is simple, fuzzy and warm, and the songs are built around letting her voice shine. Lyrically, there’s not a lot to hold on to – the songs about wayward relationships start to blend into a bit of a sad soup, but she has a cracking voice and knows how to use it. Bill, who’s produced her most recent record, hops on the piano, adding a couple of welcome extra layers for the final number.
By the time he comes back the crowd has swelled nicely, the long, oddly characterless room filling up with boisterous boys in Fred Perry and middle-aged couples waiting in semi silence. Your man Bill walks on to the Jurassic Park theme tune (it’s Jurassic Park, it’s a massive park), letting the piece fatten up like a Sunday roast before striding onstage at the end to plunk out the last chord on the piano – ‘nailed it’. This sets the tone for the rest of the night. He’s a funny man, and he has this audience eating out of the palm of his hand; he picks us up with some cracking one-liners between songs, before dropping us again with another expertly crafted downer. When one song has a surprising final section, he explains that it was supposed to be on the record but when Domino got in touch asking him to approve the final masters, he was playing Assassin’s Creed in his pants, and didn’t fancy doing a thorough check. ‘Oh well, we all make mistakes at work’.
The evening takes an unsurprisingly intimate shape, given the material, and the fact that it’s a solo show. He takes requests, and plays a generous selection from across the last three records, just leaving out his Calvino-inspired debut If. Ryder-Jones’s songwriting, and the way he presents it (sitting in front of his brother’s gravestone to film a promo clip for Yawny Yawn on his phone) is so explicitly personal that the more you invest in the music, the more you invest in the person. He talks openly about his mental health, writing as a tool for dealing with dissociative disorder and how it plays out within this lyric writing. Some shows this year have gone better than others, so it’s great to find him on efferverscent form this evening.
Moving between guitar and piano, he matches hidden gems from the back catalogue (There’s a World Between Us), with more recent material. The songs off of Yawny Yawn more than hold their own, but the biggest reaction comes for some of the belters on West Kirby County Primary. With its themes of sadness, defiance and beauty, Wild Roses is a fitting final spell cast by this melancholy magician from the North West.