On a very cold and frosty January evening in Nantwich 30 hardy souls braved the frost and snow to see Bill Ryder-Jones in possibly the most intimate venue he’s ever played, at least in recent years anyway, Applestump Records.
We’d been excited for this moment for the last 9 months, ever since I cheekily messaged Bill on Twitter asking if he’d consider coming and playing in our little town in Cheshire. We’ve been huge fans of his music for a few years and have seen him in all kinds of venues, imagine if we could persuade him to come to Nantwich? You can guess how excited we were when he came back to say he’d be up for it.
Fast forward to a week last Thursday and I’m standing in our shop, packed with people, watching Bill play an acoustic set featuring songs from his new album Iechyd Da, that’s a really surreal sentence to be writing. He’s been a busy man since that initial message; his singles have been played repeatedly on 6Music and Iechyd Da debuted at number 30 in the album chart and number 2 in the vinyl chart, and it’s all thoroughly deserved. The new album is by far the most beautiful record I have heard in a long time, it’s delicate and feels like every note and arrangement has been meticulously orchestrated to create an album where every track brings something new. It really is a masterpiece, it’ll take something amazing to shift it from my album of the year top spot.
Even from the sound check, we knew this was going to be special, this man’s voice is something else. Once everyone was in out of the cold Bill took his seat, very sportingly donning the Nantwich Town FC hat we bought him (he pulled it off very well) and after some chat with the crowd, launched effortlessly in to “I Hold Something In My Hand”, the last song to be released before Iechyd Da hit the shops. The album is full of strings and orchestration that create such a beautiful foundation for the record so I was intrigued to see how they would translate to an acoustic set and I wasn’t disappointed, the pared back sound of Bill’s voice and his guitar gave the song a completely different dimension. Songs like “If Tomorrow Starts Without Me” and “This Can’t Go On” and set closer “Thankfully For Anthony” that you think could lose something in an acoustic set gained a fragile, delicate tone with Bill’s songwriting and lyrical genius being placed front and centre for everyone to hear. It feels like he’s really comfortable and genuinely enjoying performing his new material and it’s so nice to see. New tracks like “I Know That It’s Like This” and “Christinha” were perfectly interwoven with some crowd favourites including “Wild Roses” and “By Morning I”, it was a lovely varied set of old and new.
Although it’s difficult to pick out stand out moments when everything about the performance was amazing, personal highlights for me were "A Bad Wind Blows In My Heart Part 3" from the new record and "Seabirds", a song that has a really special place in my heart and that always brings a sneaky tear to my eye, this time being no exception. I’ve heard Bill talk about how he wanted Iechyd Da to be almost a sister album to 2013’s A Bad Wind Blows In My Heart and links between the two are woven in to the new songs, noticeably with A Bad Wind Blows In My Heart Part 3, with its themes of love and the painful end of a relationship. The version we heard in the shop was filled with emotion and as the song built beautifully to its heartbreaking crescendo of “Oh how I loved you”, no one in the crowd made a sound, we were all completely captivated.
It’s very rare you get to be part of something so unique and special, it’s not lost on me how lucky we were to be able to put this on, seeing Applestump Records, Nantwich up there on the in-store tour poster under Rough Trade, Spillers, Monorail and Piccadilly Records is something I still can’t get my head around. They say you should never meet your heroes but last week definitely disproved that. Bill was just such a lovely bloke, he stood and signed everyone’s records, made conversation with each and every person who queued up to meet him and even thanked us for having him. We’re so proud to have played host to him and this is a moment that we’ll definitely struggle to top.
Thanks for letting us be part of it Bill, Iechyd Da!