Songwriting heads to Bristol Bierkeller to check out a one-man show by The Mission frontman and goth legend Wayne Hussey
est known for the past quarter-century as lead singer/guitarist in The Mission, and a member of both Dead And Alive and The Sisters Of Mercy before that, Wayne Hussey is about to release a solo album called Songs Of Candlelight And Razorblades. And to promote it, he’s undertaking a gruelling 50-date European solo tour. Songwriting went along to the fifth date of the tour, at the Bierkeller in Bristol, to see how Mr Hussey would handle the transition from frontman to solo star.
Local lad Ben Cooling got the evening underway, with a half-hour set of blistering songs played on electro-acoustic guitar. “Billy Bragg meets Jonathan Richman,” was the first description that sprang to mind; with Ben’s thrashy playing style, often angry lyrics and gravel-y voice, comparisons to John Fairhurst are perhaps also inevitable. Definitely one to watch, so check him out on Soundcloud and Facebook.
After that, the lights dimmed, the Bierkeller’s low stage was lit up (with candles, naturally, albeit of the LED variety) and out walked our erstwhile goth hero, the picture of crumpled elegance in a black linen suit, white shirt and shades. He began by singing a Jacques Brel-ish number, accompanied only by a backing tape. Then he picked up his Schecter hollow-bodied electric for a very Mission-like version of All Along The Watchtower, still with the backing tape, before dropping down to just guitar and voice for Ver Mish’s own Island In The Stream.
If it wasn’t already clear that this was going to be unlike any Mission gig, Hussey then picked up a ukelele (“What are you laughing at? Yes, I know – I’m playing a little guitar”) for versions of The Misson’s Shelter From The Storm and Like A Child Again. It wasn’t until the sixth song of the evening that we actually heard anything from the new album – an acoustic guitar number that may or may not be called You Are Not Alone.
Next came a move to the keyboard – its stand draped in the flag of Hussey’s beloved Liverpool FC – for what he announced as “the croony-y bit. You think I’m joking!”. He wasn’t joking: an artistic maturity seldom heard before from Hussey marked Dragonfly, Naked & Savage and a cover of All About Eve’s Martha’s Harbour, introduced as “a beautiful song written by a very good friend of mine”.
And so it went on, for a total of 24 songs delivered over the course of a full two hours. Constantly swapping back and forth between keyboard, acoustic and electric guitar, and keeping up the between-song banter that’s been a hallmark of Mission shows ever since this reviewer first saw them live back in 1986, Hussey gave us a mixture of Mission material, tracks from the new album and a highly unexpected cover of George Michael’s Careless Whisper. “I’m gonna play you this, and it might be crap… but about the only thing Eldritch and I ever agreed on, was that this was a great song,” was how that one was introduced!
Wasteland, reworked as a slow ballad and segueing into Like A Hurricane and back in the middle, was one highlight, current single Wither On The Vine another. But perhaps the evening’s most significant performance was that of Butterfly On A Wheel. Something of a ‘lighters aloft’ soft rock ballad in its original form and never a particular favourite with yours truly, when rendered by Hussey sitting alone at the piano, it sounded as though it had always been meant to be heard this way.
So… can the frontman of a band often dismissed in some quarters as a cartoon-ish parody of themselves, a rock ’n’ roller once as renowned for his consumption of Blue Nun and other intoxicants as for his musical and lyrical abilities, actually reinvent himself, at the age of 56, as a proper grown-up solo artist after the manner of his heroes Bob Dylan and Neil Young? Despite some initial doubts, on the evidence of tonight’s performance – part Unplugged, part An Evening With… – we wouldn’t bet against it at all.
Words: Russell Deeks Photos: Tessa Beeching
We weren’t just at the Bierkeller to hear Wayne play – watch this space for a full interview coming soon! In the meantime, for a full list of …Candlelight & Razorblades tour dates, see the Mission website.