Singer songwriter Seán McGowan shook the Exchange on Friday night, playing a mix of soft and gritty songs with his solo acoustic set…

With the release of his latest EP ‘Curate Calm, Create Chaos’, Sean McGowan came over to Bristol as part of his 12 stop tour, showing off a range of old songs and new throughout the night.

The evening was opened by the amazing Kate Stapley, who played a few of her songs, some of which were titled and from various Eps or Two Sides, others with no name. One song, about a pigeon being hit with a bicycle, was described by Stapley as “Yellow taxi meets Parklife”, and I felt it fitted perfectly. Kate’s set lasted a little over half-hour, and we were delightfully informed both her and Seán are the first acts to play all three rooms of the Exchange, a pretty good achievement.

And then, at just after 9:30, Seán took to the spotlight of the small, but brilliant, basement stage. He opened with a spoken word piece, a traditional folk show beginning, drawing everyone’s attention in, before diving into the instant sing-along ‘Cuppa Tea’.

Seán then delighted in telling us with how the tour was going so far. The previous night had been in Bideford, to a crowd of 12 people, three of which left early to catch a train. There is no train station in Bideford. The crowd made sure to remind Seán of this throughout the night.

The mood of the evening was already established with the first song, and was further helped by ‘Romance Ain’t Dead’, an uplifting song that Seán delightfully informed us was about a girl, who is now engaged to a rich guy. Nice way to set the tone for the evening.

This was followed by the first song lifted from “Curate Calm, Create Chaos”, ‘Money’. A song which was described as about being fucking broke, and one that touches on money, hope and dreams in an optimistic way.

‘£5.25’ was next, another crowd mover, with the next two songs from “Curate Calm, Create Chaos” following on. ‘I’m OK’, a song about being in a rough place, but accepting it (and even helping to get better…), and then ‘heartbreaker’, a fingerpicked, softly spoken song about love and romance, came next, before we were told a story as an explanation for a song.

‘Springhill’ is a song about Seán’s best friend’s mother, who passed away the day after his 18th. Sadly something most of us can relate to, the song delves into the emotional side of grief, something no one is ever prepared for, and touched a lot of hearts.

We were then told “things are going to get proper fucking emo”, as Seán was about to play ‘Unstuck’, but first we were told about the small, up and coming artist who featured on the record – Frank Turner. We were told some stories about the “lanky stream of piss” that is Mr Turner, but it was all in good humour as Seán got into the song, another hard hitting emotional song.

This was proceeded by ‘Neverland’ and ‘Costa Del Solution’, two high energy songs about some not-so-happy topics regarding life as we know it. Throughout the rest of the set, Seán truly did become the “king of awkwardness”, with his almost trademark longer-than-need-be pauses and overly exaggerated notes.

The whole audience then joined in with singing Dan a happy Birthday, before another singalong was played. ‘Off the rails’ was met with enthusiasm from everyone in the room. A high energy song about friendship and life, and real crowd pleaser, it managed to lift the already heightened spirits of the room.

‘Queen of the West’ was followed, after a short story from Seán, about his Grandmother and all she has done, and what an amazing woman she is. Another soft, fingerpicked song with a raw, strummed acoustic mid-section, the song captivated Margret’s amazingness and was a real tribute to the Queen of the west.

After realising the show was going to run over, Seán expressed a political message, that was, in short, “Get those fucking Tories out”, before the penultimate show of the evening, ‘Millbrook Road’. Another crowd sing-along about hopeless love and romance, before we were treated to the big finale.

“No Show”, conveniently closed the show for us, with most of the crowd singing, or even shouting, the words back to the front man. This was met with thundering rounds of applause and cheers at the end, and although there was no fancy lighting or special effects, it was an amazing gig, demonstrating the true colours of good music with good people.

Seán was even kind enough to stick around to have a chat and take photos.

And with that, a massive thanks goes to Seán and Kate, for being incredible performers, and to the exchange crew, for hosting yet another good show.

The Exchange is an independent venue that relies on people coming to shows in order to stay in business. If you would like to check out a show click here.

See also:

I spoke to Southampton’s Seán McGowan ahead of the second leg of his UK tour…

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