NICK SHANE – Live At Blend Coffee House, Dundee

Nick Shane is one of those musicians who deserves to be better known. The Dundee based singer songwriter has been giving the world some rather solid mod-inflected pop/rock since the release of his ‘An Introspection of Now Here’ album in 2014, but hasn’t really reached household name status – at least outside of Scotland. Even 2019’s ‘Come Under Cover’ – with Nick falling back on the time honoured covers album to attract new ears – didn’t really gain the kind of traction it so warranted, and at the point where 2022 seemed ready to pull to a close, his Discogs page remained strangely incomplete. Nevertheless, the hard working musician isn’t without his share of fans, and at Scotland’s very first Rainbow Awards in 2015, Nick received an award for “Outstanding Contribution to Music & LGBT Rights”. For most, the road to stardom isn’t taken overnight, but quite why Nick isn’t thought of with the same reverence as Miles Kane is a mystery.

As its title suggests, ‘Live At Blend Coffee House, Dundee’ captures Nick in a live and very intimate setting on home turf. On this brilliant recording, he runs through seven of his best songs – going right back to 2014 – armed with an acoustic guitar and joined by a bright sounding piano. Although this safe, coffee time setting doesn’t allow for too much punch, that doesn’t mean the songs lack a directness. If anything, the opposite is true; with room to breathe in the small room setting, the lyrics come alive, and Shane’s natural talent conveys a massive amount of emotion on some timeless sounding numbers.

The opening performance of ‘Cloudy Monday’ sets everything up in grand style with Nick hitting a couple of buzzing strings before settling into a set of stately chords, over which pianist Ed Muirhead drops in some superb rolling piano that sounds almost soundtrack-like. Into the body of the track, it’s Nick’s vocal that quickly takes centre stage, often sounding like a man who’s ingested a whole world of Paul Weller’s classic works from the early 90s. Not only does he appear to have the same soulful grit, but this number also shows him to carry many of The Modfather’s easily recognisable inflections. Performance wise, it takes the same route as the single recording from 2020, but reduced to a single acoustic guitar and with Jen Culross’s harmonies replaced by a striking piano part, it could eventually be seen as the definitive version of the song. A little quieter, ‘Wishing Well’ features some great playing throughout, but much as before, it’s a superb showcase for a strong voice with Nick seemingly feeding off the quiet attention from the small crowd as he works through something that honestly sounds like a ‘Wild Wood’ deep cut. As Nick hits a few hard strummed chords and Ed fills plenty of space with a taut piano riff, it’s easy to put yourself in the room with them when listening, and although the track’s simple and repetitious nature leaves listeners wanting more as the last notes fade, the melody really conveys a timeless appeal.

‘The Otherside’, in particular, stands out due to the chords really bristling in a way that allows Nick’s strings to buzz whilst he calls with clarity about wanting peace of mind and ruminating on a potential breakup. If it weren’t clear previously, the greatness in Nick’s voice really comes through on a louder chorus, whilst the verses capture an aching beauty via a melody that sounds as if it could crack at any moment. Looking back to 2016’s ‘N S’ album, ‘Hold My Sunshine’ sounds much better here. Shorn of the heavy echo used on the studio cut, Nick’s voice becomes the main feature and, in dialling down the guitars, a semi-folky melody becomes a great counterpart to a tune that conveys something vaguely soul inspired. When heard in this way, it’s easy to hear something that calls back to the fashion for acoustic music in the 90s, but it’s far greater than a mere throwback since there’s plenty within another impassioned vocal performance that makes this sound really fresh.

Working through ‘Nature’s Callings’, the marriage of shimmering acoustic guitar and hard struck piano quickly sets a great tune in place. It sounds a little different to the Thunderclap Newman inspired studio cut with its female harmonies and neo-psychedelic haze, but it’s certainly none the worse for it. In fact, by placing Nick’s voice in a way that it has no extra distractions, it merely reinforces any ideas that he really does have a really natural talent, and in a nod to the debut, ‘She Should Be An Angel’ fills a little time with a simple ballad that, again, sounds so much more free without heavy drums or an obvious 60s reverb colouring its melody. Left alone for Nick’s voice to do the bulk of the work, it’s impossible to guess when it was written – or even if Nick had written it; it feels like something that could’ve come from the mind of greats like Ronnie Lane, Steve Marriott, or even Ocean Colour Scene’s Simon Fowler and Steve Cradock on one of their very best days.

The particularly buoyant ‘Junkie’ closes the set, sounding more than ever like a tune from Paul Weller’s ‘Heavy Soul’ reworked for a more modern ear, whilst the piano dances through a really busy hook, somehow making the stripped down performance sounding really full. As with ‘Wishing Well’, the playing is brilliant, but for the most part it’s the vocal that shines, with Shane belting a huge sound that clearly fills the room in the absence of a full band. The studio cut sounded great with a busy, ringing guitar, but this – for all its clarity and honesty – is superior, and something that fans will treasure.

With the audio fading out between tracks, it appears that this captures select highlights as opposed to presenting a full set, but whether you’re a long time fan or first time listener, this recording really shines a light on one of Scotland’s finest talents. The “official bootleg” approach to the recording is perfect; Nick’s voice is stellar, and the songs…the songs really come alive when reduced to their bare bones. This low key celebration of both works past and more greatness to come is every reason why a great live recording can really capture a moment. This is a release that’s not to be missed.

Buy the download here: Nick Shane – Live At Blend Coffee House, Dundee

September 2022