Gig review: John Bramwell at Live By The Sea, The Spa Hotel in Saltburn-by-the-Sea

What have the Victorian's ever done for us? Well, yes, there was the underground rail network, the invention of motor car and the telephone, the postal system and bicycle but what else?
John BramwellJohn Bramwell
John Bramwell

Well, there was the author Jerome K Jerome, from whose novel John Bramwell’s band I Am Kloot reputedly obtained their name and they were the main extollers of the benefits of escaping the dark and grime of northern cities during the Industrial Revolution to the British seaside, with all the health benefits and cleansing of the soul that came with it.

The Spa Hotel in Saltburn-by-the-Sea has, for the past 132 years, epitomised this, having been granted a licence for ‘dramatic performances’ in May 1885 and witnessing gigs from the likes of Sting and Chris Rea in the more recent past. Now the hotel has revoked that spirit through a series of monthly gigs. Branded Live By The Sea, it’s secured a number of impressive names to take advantage of the 200 capacity function room.

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John Bramwell is one such name. Widely regarded as one of the finest singer / songwriters in the country, Bramwell travelled from his hometown of Manchester to Saltburn to do exactly what the town’s forefathers had envisaged, to cleanse the soul and to lift the spirit. He certainly has the pedigree, his band having had seven studio albums, including the Mercury music prize nominated Sky at Night in 2010, but it remained to be seen how he would cope without his two ever present band members.

The venue was set with, as Bramwell described it, a convivial candle lit atmosphere with a sold out seated audience, subtle lighting and, apparently the game changer, tablecloths. Opening with Mouth on Me, it took only a few bars to confirm what the entire hotel inherently knew, that a Bramwell solo performance showcases some of the finest song writing, vocals, instrumentals and, a rare talent, comedic interludes and anecdotes on the UK circuit.

Moving through a set of Kloot classic tracks, notoriously difficult to play Masquerade and Fear of Falling breezed until Bramwell was joined on stage by Alan, who contributed a ‘drunken accordion solo’ on To the Brink, lifting the crowd. Laughingly referring to a review identifying Bramwell as ‘an exquisite player of power and functionality’, Gods and Monsters was a further highlight before Alan, ‘the benign leader of the world’, contributed keyboards to I Still Do, Fingerprints, Some Better Day before arriving at possibly the finest song Bramwell has ever penned, Same Deep Water, complete with obligatory extended instrumental ending.

Maintaining the quality in both music and jesting during a laid back performance, Bramwell sang the same verse twice during From Your Favourite Sky, changing a line to inform the crowd as to what he’d just done, to conclude a fascinating set with supporting act Dave Fidler joining him on stage during favourites Northern Skies and Proof. There was no chance of Bramwell escaping without an encore and two further songs Times Arrow and Bigger Wheels brought an enchanting set to a close.

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Earlier in the evening, Dave Fidler had suitably warmed the crowd up with some exquisite guitar playing and songs taken his album I’m Not Here, with the Dylan-esque Easy Gone, Easy Come, the amazing instrumental track Tommy and Taking Over particular highlights.

Live By The Sea has a series of acts of the highest quality booked through the coming months, Ren Harvieu and Romeo Stodart, the latter of The Magic Numbers, in July, his band mate Michele Stodart teaming up with Kathryn Williams in August and China Crisis in November. There are few venues certainly with a better view but also a more congenial and affable atmosphere capable of achieving what the Victorians always sought, to take what is associated with Britain’s industrial heartland and give it a revitalised lease of life in an uplifting and purifying experience.