Gig review: Steve Poltz sparkles on Bute return

Steve Poltz in concert at the Mount Stuart Crypt on Sunday, May 26.
Steve Poltz in concert at the Mount Stuart Crypt on Sunday, May 26.

Canadian-born and California-resident singer and songwriter Steve Poltz played live at Mount Stuart’s Crypt on May 26 - although he had a rival in the fight for the biggest headlines of the evening.

Why? Well, it’s not often that the main attraction at any concert is upstaged by one of the support acts; in fact, promoters generally go out of their way to make sure such things just don’t happen.

They obviously hadn’t reckoned with Acousticrat’s guitarist and lead vocalist Sam Tweedlie, though.

Halfway through the duo’s version of the Luka Bloom song ‘You Couldn’t Have Come At A Better Time’ at the Mount Stuart Crypt on Sunday, and after what seemed like a long, rambling and vaguely stop-digging-before-you-reach-the-point-where-you-can’t-get-out kind of introduction about the personal impact of the song, Sam stopped dead in his tracks and marched up towards the back of the room.

A broken guitar string, perhaps? A particularly insistent heckler? Happily, neither: instead Sam stopped three rows from the back, turned to his girlfriend Karen Murty and, with most of the audience staring goggle-eyed, got down on one knee and proposed.

Even more happily, Karen said yes, bringing a smile to the face of just about everyone in the audience.

That said, even without offers of marriage in the middle of a song, this would have been a gig that stuck in the memory.

That’s partly down to the support, which, in addition to Acousticrat’s short set from their album Assembly Required and their selection of covers by the likes of the Goo Goo Dolls and Crowded House, was provided by Raggle Taggle Gypsies lead vocalist Frank Hewitt, touring to promote his first solo release.

But Sunday’s gig was mostly a memorable evening because of Steve Poltz. On the penultimate night of his latest UK tour, Poltz - returning to Bute after a successful first visit last autumn - showed off his skills as a master musician to the full.

Poltz is also a supreme storyteller, kind of in the fashion of Tom Waits - though with a very different musical style - or, from a Scottish perspective, the late, great Michael Marra.

Where Marra’s musings had more to do with wry observations on life in general, though, Poltz’s are much more personal, recounting his own experiences of growing up and of adjusting, as a native of Halifax, Nova Scotia, to the very different way of living in the USA.

In musical terms, his set was a whirlwind tour of an almost uncountable number of styles and influences.

One minute he verged on country and western, the next a beautifully delicate version of the traditional Irish folk song She Moved Through The Fair, and then a slice of improvised urban hip-hop using a recording loop and a lyric, “I’m in the crypt at Mount Stuart, hangin’ out in a little church-like place”, which he tried hard to persuade his audience that he hadn’t really made up on the hoof.

If you really want one teensy, weensy criticism, it would be of his apparent reluctance to reveal the titles of the songs he’d played. But perhaps that’s just the information-hungry reporter in me; with my journalist’s hat off, it was impossible not to simply sit back marvel at the ability of one of the most remarkable all-round musicians to have graced the Bute stage in recent years.