Thursday 14 June 2018

Michael Hurley, Gullivers, Manchester, June 13, 2018

I've been neglecting Hurley as English traditional folk has begun to monopolise all, so it was a blast to crouch at the side of the stage of Gulliver’s within touching distance of the god-like genius. It was only an upstairs room in a pub but the crowd was gratifyingly full, and gratifyingly young too, and I’m sure they weren’t just there to support the support (as it were), Cult Party and Elle Mary, who were musically rudimentary and lyrically deep and, in my opinion, vastly compelling.  

Hurley will occasionally drop in the odd cover – I liked Spade Cooley's 'Detour' best – but this only shows up how in advance his own songs are, melodically and lyrically, and how unconventional and how ‘outside’. You don't know what Hurley is going to say or do next, or where his stuttering guitar will lead. And the number of fantastic songs he so casually strews about! The whole world is contained in 'I Paint a Design'. He can be ethereal and eerie – usually signalled by a switch to fluting falsetto, which dips in volume from his normal range –  and then earthy and hilarious, all in the space of a song. As in 'Oh My Stars', a forlorn cosmic reverie with a digression about a spider climbing a wall. And what was that in 'Slurf Song', about eating oysters and getting their molecules to work for him? And how about summoning aboriginal spirits by the mundane act of phoning Oregon and discussing the weather (‘The Portland Water’)? The man is incapable of saying anything which isn't profound or funny, or both at once. He's a metaphysical Mark Twain really. 

The set was well paced but I realised that any other random selection of Hurley songs would contain an equal amount of my favourite songs in the world, including some I've never heard before. And when I say ‘well-paced’ I am perhaps underplaying his genius to slow the world down, and occupy each moment with rapt attention. His genius is to make you see the world as he sees it, with a vision that is surreal and touching and hilarious, and has the prime merit of being totally unique. You can't help but love him. And how gratifying that he remembers me as 'the journalist'. Not many do. 

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