LIVE REVIEW: Thomas & The Empty Orchestra, George Gadd & Colder Bones, Gullivers Manchester, 5th April

Thomas & The Empty Orchestra Photo: Frank Roper Photography

It was with a great sense of anticipation that I took the trip to Gullivers to see Thomas & The Empty Orchestra play live for the first time. Having reviewed his last two releases (‘Patron Saint’ and ‘A More Equal Punishment‘) I’ve become quite a fan.

But first a word about the venue and an admission. The gig was held in the acoustic lounge room of Gullivers which you might describe as intimate, so intimate in fact that you’re virtually toe-to-toe with the performers. This could be either quite intimidating or a great opportunity to really connect with the performers. For me the latter applies, I really like being up close and personal with the performers. The admission is that sadly I wasn’t able to stay for the headlining act Bike Tuff, a not very LSF thing to do.

First up was Colder Bones (Matthew Awbery – of the band Plastic – acoustic incarnation – Facebook Page). Matthew played a set of intense emotion laden songs – in a sort of grunge acoustic style. So intense was his performance that I became quite engrossed in it. At times his emotion seems to take over and he shouts the words with barely restrained anger. The words are important in these songs but so is the performance of those words. Given that at the time of his performance the audience was – how shall we put it – sparse, you have to admire somebody who can put that level of energy into a performance. I was hugely impressed and I can recommend catching him if you get the chance.

George Gadd Photo: Frank Roper Photography

The audience numbers thankfully increased for George Gadd. (Facebook Page) His style is much lighter and more traditionally acoustic. He also has, I must say, a great line in banter. The one thing that has stayed with me is his voice which is clear and light. For me I was entertained but not moved by his songs, although that clearly wasn’t an opinion held by the rest of the audience who really seemed to get into it. Unfortunately, on the night, his thing was just not for me.

Thomas & The Empty Orchestra Photo: Frank Roper Photography

And so to Thomas & The Empty Orchestra (who I shall refer to as Thomas, it’s just easier). Given that his recorded material is lushly arranged in places and that this was a solo performance with an electric guitar, mouth organ and bass drum pad, I didn’t know quite what to expect. What I immediately found out is that what replaces the ‘lost lush arrangements’ is Thomas himself.

What I expected – and I’m not really sure why – was a quietly restrained performance but what we got was a foot stomping, ‘out there’ performance. Thomas took advantage of the small room size to, at times, step away from the mic and just sing unamplified. There was banter, jokes and even a sing-along. It was a performance that was bigger than the room.

Stripped back and sometimes shifted to a country, blues or rock edged arrangement the songs still work as well as the recorded material. Showing that if a song is well written it can take being changed for live performance.

Thomas opened with ‘A More Equal Punishment’ and to be honest from that point I stopped being a reviewer and became a fan, albeit a fan with a large camera glued to his face for most of the set.

Thomas & The Empty Orchestra Photo: Frank Roper Photography

Highlights for me were the aforementioned ‘A More Equal Punishment’, ‘Patron Saint’ featuring some rather nice mouth organ ‘breaks’ and ‘Last Orders On Ladies Night’.

We also got a preview of the next single ‘My Old Heart’ although what he played was the song version written before he started recording it. He explained that during the recording he decided that had to rewrite it to be about the world we are in now, rather than the original which was about a bad relationship (or at least this is what I think he said). But he couldn’t actually remember the rewritten version so what we got was the original version. I rather liked the song so perhaps he might consider recording the original as well.

OK so I’m already a fan, but I did take some time out from the performance just to see how the rest of the audience were enjoying it. Seemed to me that everyone was into it. And when, on the last song, Thomas asked us to sing-along we all did.

If you haven’t already heard any of Thomas’ songs I urge you to take a listen. And if you like songs from the heart performed brilliantly do catch Thomas playing live.


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Frank is the website guy for Local Sound Focus. Takes a lot of photos and loves writing about new music.