Robbie Cavanagh: ‘The State of Maine’ Album Launch

 Robbie Cavanagh album launch

I’ve made no secret of my admiration for Robbie Cavanagh’s solo debut The State of Maine. (Check out my Über Röck review, for example.)

The announcement, therefore, of a series of three album launch gigs in Manchester, Liverpool and London sounded positively mouth-watering. Irresistible, in fact. And so it was that Jess and I rushed through Friday afternoon as quickly as we could, trading Welsh hills and Roman Baths for a small Baptist Church in Hampstead, London.

We only missed one turning. It just happened to be Junction 2 of the M4, and it set us back an hour. To our surprise and delight, however, we still manage to arrive before the gig starts – and boy was that lucky, with both support acts, Your Correspondent and Lovelace, turning in ‘not to be missed’ sets.

Your Correspondent, featuring Andrew D. Smith (vocals, guitar) and Edwin Ireland (cello), play without the violinist, drummer and backing vocalist who feature on their 4-track E.P. – not that you’d guess anything is missing from the assured performance and quality of the songs. Of particular note are ‘Watching the Storm’, ‘Spinning Globe’ and ‘The Violin Trees’. (The latter, about a man whose job it is to select the trees from which violins will be made, is given an added twist by the story of the band’s regular violinist owning an instrument made in 1751.)

Second act, singer-songwriter Lovelace, proves as quirky and engaging as the music she plays.  She seems to spend a lot of time in the USA – and regales us with tales of a songwriting trip to San Francisco that yielded just one track, and the Nevada festival that inspired the song ‘Burning Man’.  For the first time ever, it seems, Lovelace is joined on stage by three young vocalists – Ruth Corey, Hannah Murphy and Sian O’Gorman – who do a fine job replacing her loop station! It’s a veritable feast of melody, harmony and vocal gymnastics – hugely enjoyable stuff!

Robbie Cavanagh and Will RogersBut as good as the support acts are, within moments of him taking to the stage, all eyes and ears are on Robbie Cavanagh. He opens with ‘Deeper’, the first track of his album. It’s mesmerising – with the restrained drumming of brother Jamie and hummed backing of Messrs Brewin, Tosh and Rogers enhancing Cavanagh’s bleeding heart vocal and emotive guitar.

For this series of gigs Robbie has assembled nearly all the musicians who play on the album, namely Rick Brewin (percussion, bass, backing vocals), Rachel Shakespeare (cello), Melody Nairn (vocals), Jamie Cavanagh (drums), Will Rogers (guitar) and Drew Tosh (backing vocals). Keyboards this evening are provided by Liviu Gheorghe.

There is a warmth evident between the musicians, and, indeed, the contribution of the band to Robbie’s performance should not be underestimated. Rachel Shakespeare’s cello, for example, adds appropriate pathos, as on the enormously impressive ‘Heavy Heart’. Melody Nairn’s dreamy voice works particularly well on ‘1991’ (a personal favourite), the male/female vocal dynamic emphasising the significance and impact of the lyric. Group claps add percussive force to the flamenco-styled ‘Worn’ and contrast nicely with Robbie’s quieter guitar moments. The full band version of ‘Boy From The Fair’ is a treat. And ‘Choked Up’ is given an energy boost that has it sounding even more ‘countrified’ than on the album, the upbeat music clashing delightfully with the (relatively) dark lyrics.

The fact of the matter is that The State of Maine features some achingly beautiful and often delicate music. One of its strong points is its ‘realness’; the sense of ‘person’ you get from the songs. Seeing that same person perform the songs live reinforces this.

Cavanagh has presence but is unassuming. There is strength and emotion in the songs – he seems to feel every note and every lyric – but between songs his manner is gentle. He is charming but also modest.  “Thank you for clapping,” he says at one point, “it makes it better for us.”

He seems genuinely grateful for, and even surprised by, the enthusiastic response of his audience. His explanation for having chosen to play in a church is that: “You have to face the right way, and the doors are locked.” He is gracious towards the support acts with whom, he says, he has “fallen in love a little bit”.

This was an intentionally small and intimate gig attended by, perhaps, 50 people. (Apparently, he had half the cast of Channel 4’s Hollyoaks at the Liverpool gig.) Hopefully more gigs will follow. Check out the album, and if you do get a chance to see the man live, make sure you take it! As I said in my album review, here’s a musician, and a soul, on fire!

Robbie Cavanagh launch gig - stage shot

The State of Maine is available now on iTunes.

Physical copies are available from Big Cartel.

Check out Robbie Cavanagh’s Words and Music interview.

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  1. Robbie Cavanagh – Which Way To New York | Words and Music

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