Okay. So I only just got John Grant last week. I’d seen his name around but never listened to his stuff. I’m an idiot.
As soon as I listened to his most recent album Pale Green Ghosts, I was hooked. Properly hooked. Listen-on-repeat-come-on-everyone-listen-to-this hooked. So it was with a degree of embarrassment that I went along to hear him perform with the mighty BBC Philharmonic Orchestra in Salford – I was embarrassed that I was a Johnny-Come-Lately to an artist I should’ve been hooked on years ago. You see? Idiot.
The orchestration, by Fiona Brice, was just so. By that, I mean that it was delicate, sympathetic and no less than Grant’s compositions deserved. Glacier was given a sweeping, aching depth that was hinted at on the recording. Sigourney Weaver, from his first album Queen of Denmark, sounded as if it had always had a full-blown orchestra underneath it (with some lovely work from the woodwind section), and Marz was just sublime. The title track Pale Green Ghosts exploded, like the Bond theme it always wanted to be. In fact, if the next Bond film isn’t called Pale Green Ghosts, I’ll send a stiff letter to Barbara Broccoli myself.
There’s a plaintive quality to Grant’s voice – evoking the baritone of Rufus Wainwright or Neil Hannon – and his writing brings the wit and pathos of each, with a pinch of Randy Newman on top. GMF in particular shows a refreshingly wry self-awareness, and the orchestral backing made this one all the more delicious through its grandiosity.
John Grant tours this glorious production round the UK next month, with the equally wonderful Royal Northern Sinfonia.
Don’t be an idiot.
Words and images by Chris Payne