Many years ago John Grant nodded off on my sofa AND he bought me devilled eggs in a restaurant in Iceland. True story.

Look at him now!

And look at him you must, such was the stage presence and sublime voice of the man singing the songs of Patsy Cline this evening as part of Manchester International Festival (MIF).

If you’ve ever seen John Grant live (and if not, why not?), you’ll know already how utterly spectacular his voice is. It’s simply stunning. Combine this with his witty repartee and personable nature and he’s justifiably placed at the top of any list of great live performers, past or present.

But even by the standards of previous John Grant gigs, tonight’s concert was something truly special. For one thing, the gig epitomised what makes MIF so wonderful, bringing different artists together to try something new and create magical experiences. And what a collaboration this was, Grant matched beautifully with The Richard Hawley Band. Humbly taking the back seat, Hawley didn’t utter a word all night. He didn’t really need to – his playing said all that he needed to say.

John Grant by Rob Martin

And The Hall inside Aviva Studios was showing off its flat floor configuration. Believe me, this is going to be a great space for gigs. The sound is crystal clear and the hall feels much more intimate than a space that size probably should. It works.

Finally, though, it’s the bringing together of not two but three great artists that makes this evening an unforgettable one. Patsy Cline’s songs are plentiful and tremendous, and Grant’s choices allow the lucky audience to sway with the familiar ones and marvel at those lesser known. It makes this a night of greatest hits as well as a skip through some of Grant’s personal, more obscure favourites.

Throughout, he entertains the audience, telling us where his love for Cline came from – family anecdotes, favourite films, banter. He’s a real charmer. He’s also the only performer I’ve seen so far at MIF to thank the person doing the BSL interpretation by name. Tony, you were great.

Grant’s own story and appearance – a reformed addict who is also a big gay bear of a man – adds a resonance to some of Cline’s songs that certainly gives refreshed meaning.

But in the end it’s that voice. There was something about that voice with that band and those songs that created something tangibly beautiful tonight, something fleeting, rare and exquisite. Sometimes, the bass of Grant’s voice was heavy enough to plant you firmly on the spot and hold you there transfixed while, at other times, his delicate higher range swelled your heart and made you shed a tear. Sweet Dreams was a case in point, perhaps the most stunning performance in a night of sublime moments.

By Rob Martin

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Main image: John Grant and Richard Hawley by Dan Sullivan


Manchester International Festival

John Grant