Aufwiedersehen My Heart
Straddling a border with France and Germany, Basel is (I am told) Switzerland’s third biggest city – given the heaving metropolis that I live in (London) it seems pretty darn cute and quiet to me.
The venue for Friday and Saturday’s Glen gigs is Parterre. It’s a restaurant, it’s a bar, it’s a café and tucked around the back is a living room size venue which holds maybe 150 people with no apparent curfew. These shows are quite clearly intended to be intimate nights of music and tales shared at very close quarters. This of course suits our Irish troubadour down to the ground given the very personal nature of his art.
This is about as perfect a space to offer up and exchange your heart and soul with a very small audience if I ever saw one – I find myself thinking before the first show ‘Yes, this will do very nicely – bring it on!’.
Part One – Friday – 23 September 2011
Ollie Cole starts off Friday night’s festivities by sharing his delight at a new purchase – a suave looking Leonard Cohen-style hat which is almost as new as the songs he is about to perform. He also expresses an instant love of Basel but for the woman in the lap dancing club he mistakenly attended the night before who did him out of 69 Euros for a couple of drinks (and no lap dance) – I’ll leave Ollie to explain that one further!
These tunes are, Ollie tells us, part of a tranche which he has very recently recorded for a new album due out next March and are all love songs. The crowd express what seems to be a silent but excited sense of anticipation and Ollie launches into Helium Heart which is an ode to a lover delivered in longing tones. Ollie’s love interest takes on a number of forms during his set including a wolf (‘Howl’) and a soaring gull at night (‘I’ll be Saved’). His voice is intent and melodic and is well-received by the audience.
Glen bounces on stage around 9.45pm and delves straight in to an acapella version of Spencer the Rover quickly followed by a succession of songs which showcase his different songwriting guises – a Frames tune (What Happens When the Heart Just Stops), a Swell Season number (Low Rising) and two new solo songs (Return and Talkin to the Wolves – apparently wolf talk is on the agenda this tour!).
As usual, Glen switches easily between each guise – not unsurprising given that he is the main ingredient/protagonist in all. His tools of trade consist of his trusty Takamine Horse, the go-fast red electric Guild and a mid-size ukulele (a baritone I believe). More likely than not a Frames song is coming your way when the Guild is strapped on, but mostly Glen is attached (both physically and emotionally) to the Horse.
The most effective exchanges between an artist and his audience necessarily involve a personal element beyond the songs themselves. As anyone who has been to one of Glen’s shows knows, he pretty much always lets you in to some of his personal headspace so that you can take something even more from his performance. After a further Frames tune (Seven Day Mile), Glen recollects some time spent by him in Paris a few days earlier and his opportunity to visit the graves of two influential artists – Serge Gainsbourg and Thomas Beckett. In paying his respects, Glen shares a non-verbal exchange he has with a weeping French woman (who speaks no English) next to Serge Gainsbourg’s grave and his determination to leave a respectful contribution of sorts from which he has only a pen (his songwriting sword) and his ipod to offer – the pen wins out.
Glen is always concerned about his audience and tonight is no exception. After a gorgeous version of Disappointed he asks how the crowd is handling the hot, sticky confines of the venue. This even extends to allowing an audience member a toilet break with his promise not to perform any further songs until the said audience member returns – something which is really above and beyond all levels of consideration that I have seen from any performer. In the interim Glen shares a story about famous traditional Irish musician Seán Ó Riada, but before you know it the audience member is back and crowd favourite Falling Slowly is upon us.
The night moves on all too quickly for those in attendance and despite the room temperature (which is something akin to a small furnace by this stage) we are all disappointed to know the main set is over when Glen leaves the stage at the end of When Your Mind’s Made Up.
The first encore begins with a new song entitled It’s Coming. The new songs which Glen is performing at these shows remain works in progress being fine-tuned and changed day-to-day. It’s Coming is a very good example of this – it was performed on acoustic guitar in Amsterdam but tonight Glen uses the piano sitting in the corner of the tiny stage. The instrument change significantly affects the song’s intensity and a short while in I find I’m feeling slightly giddy and I realise I am holding my breath and I need to remind myself to exhale to prevent myself from keeling over! It is a breathtaking, beyond gorgeous version and Glen admits that it is the first time he has performed it on piano. I say a silent prayer to the music gods that this new song will make it onto Glen’s forthcoming solo album in piano form.
Glen moves back to the trusty Horse for Say It To Me Now and Gold and then invites Ollie back to the stage to perform his just written song ‘All of the Time’. The night ends with a rendition of The Auld Triangle where Ollie and Glen are joined for a verse by Road Manager Fiachra whose deep, rich baritone delights everyone including those in stage and leaves you pondering whether EVERY Irishman can sing brilliantly!
It’s the end of an almost two and half hour show and all I can do is be happy to have again been part of an intimate and personal musical exchange, and stoked that I have a ticket which will allow me to do it again the next evening.