John Smith seems surprised by the boisterous crowd at Putney's Half Moon, quipping that there must be better things to do in London on a Thursday night. And yet after his set it’s clear that he’s wrong.
Smith, bearded and waistcoated, has an understated charm but his performance is anything bur ordinary. He is one of those rare musicians who can make a guitar thunder and sing with the gravel voice of someone with a taste for whisky and cigarettes. The fans encamped cross-legged on the floor, soon hear Smith launch into 'Axe Mountain', the tale of a woman's revenge on her husband's murderer. He bellows out his lyrics, baring his teeth and throwing back his head.
The hushed lyrics of 'Invisible Boy' show that he can also deliver the sort of ethereal songs which Nick Drake made his own. Although he fiddles regularly with his guitar's tuning you don't suffer the ten minute hiatus which blighted Drake's performances. Where there are breaks Smith portrays a witty confidence. Before 'Another Country', he declares it’s "about a girl I was in love with" and after a cheer from the crowd he adds "yeah, but I had to kill her".
The gig finishes with two belters. First, 'Watch her Die' a blistering song where Smith's stamping feet pound like the sound a nail being driven into a coffin. But his cover of The Rolling Stones' 'Winter' is the true finale. With the guitar laid flat across his thighs, Smith hits the strings like piano keys and drums out furious beats on the hollow wood.
Smith is not only a brilliant musician, but a great story teller; a man who means and feels what he sings.
By Jon Davis
If you missed Smith at the Half Moon on 11th November, he's back in London playing the Vortex Jazz Club on 23rd of November.