Back in January of this year I had the pleasure of reviewing Franz Nicolay’s latest album “To Us The Beautiful” for Echoes and Dust and a very fine album it is. I was thrilled to see that Franz was in the UK for a series of 15 shows and one of those shows was fairly local to me at The Joiners in Southampton.
The Joiners is a bit of a legendary venue and huge numbers of big name acts have played there on their way to becoming big names. Ed Sheeran, Enter Shikari, Muse the Levellers and Oasis are just a few of the bands that have played this little 150 capacity venue.
Situated in the St Mary’s district of Southampton The Joiners like the whole area has seen better days. It looks a little neglected both inside and out and the lighting is terrible. That said the sound is great and the beer is fine too.
We arrived at the venue just before 8pm and were expecting to find that support act John Shoe was already on stage but no. As seems to be becoming the norm these days there were no less than four acts across the evening. As a result it was 9.45 before Franz took the stage.
If you don’t know Franz Nicolay’s solo music he is a multi instrumentalist and during this show he accompanied himself on guitar, banjo and accordion, though obviously not all at the same time. Franz opened the set with the opening track of his album “To Us The Beautiful” and as you would expect we were treated to around half a dozen songs from the album with Marfa Lights, Shallow Water, Wrestlers and Bright White all getting a run out.
What impresses me about Nicolay is the seamless way he shifts between instruments. As an example when he broke a string during “The Hearts Of Boston” he finished the song, handed off his guitar for someone to replace the string, picked up his banjo and launched into “Shallow Water” no fuss, no flap, no drama. The evening comedy moment came a little later in the set when Franz again broke a string during “Wrestler.” On this occasion he handed off the guitar and played “This Is Not A Pipe” on his banjo. When his guitar was restrung he simply scratched his head, said “Now where was I?” and went back to where he had been in “Wrestler.”
It is also nice to see an artists ask the audience what they want to hear and then do his level best to play it. On this occasion this included a cover of The Sharp Things song “There Will Be Violins” though to be fair Franz did release his modified version of the song back in 2007.
Nicolay is an accomplished and engaging performer. Modest and self effacing he chats to the audience rather than at them and is happy to share a joke or wisecrack between songs. There is no doubt in my mind that incredibly talented performer should be playing to much larger crowds than is the case at venues like the Joiners, but sadly it seems to be the case that talent counts for little in the music business these days.
We just have to be grateful that people like Franz Nicolay and venues like The Joiners find a way to keep their heads above water so that we can continue to listen to great music. Lets just hope that they can both keep doing so for years to come.