A lot of people watched The Brits Awards last week and came to the conclusion that music is dead, over, all the good stuff in the past.  But tonight proved, if any proof were needed, that nothing could be further from the truth.

Sure, the top 40 is finished as a creative force of any cultural significance, but lets not get too nostalgic, you need go no further than these re-runs of old episodes of Top of the Pops from the 80s that away from the rose-tinted vision we’ve built up over the years, the good songs were few and far between, and heavily outnumbered by novelty singles.  True, depending where your tastes lie there were more good songs in the charts then than now, but do we really miss a system of fake scarcity and gatekeepers and money-people deciding what we got to listen to?  Screw that!

The good news is that there has never been more great music at our fingertips than there is now.  True, you’ve got to do the leg (ear?) work, sifting through mediocrity to find these gems, but when you discover an artist as talented as Laura Gibson, the buzz is unreal!

The path to discovering an artist is often convoluted.  A few years ago at Summer Sundae Weekender me and my missus saw a Canadian artist called Dan Mangan who we both thought was great.  Who do you think we saw standing outside our Ibis (hotel) when we got back?  So we had a chat and he turned out to be a really nice, down-to-earth guy.  And that’s despite the fact that whilst he’s relatively unknown here, he seems to be huge in his native Canada.

When tickets went on sale for his first UK gig in several years, we knew we had to go, and I decided to find out if I could take some photos for the blog.

The people who represent him in the UK sent me a link to Laura Gibson, and on first watch of “Domestication” I was blown away.  What a fab song and video!

Of course a lot of bands manage 1 truly great single, that one song everybody waits for, looking at their watch impatiently whilst the band play the more self indulgent stuff, audience erupting on the opening notes, so I was keen to find out whether her other material comes close – and the answer is a resounding YES, in fact I’m still trying to find one of her songs that isn’t a masterpiece in it’s own right!  Indeed, Domestication was the 2nd song in her set.

A lot of bands sound great on studio recordings with all the trickery available, but can’t quite cut it live.  Laura’s talent shone through from her sound-check onwards!

Armed with nothing more than an acoustic guitar, a tiny keyboard and her incredible voice, she enraptured everyone lucky enough to be in the room.  She didn’t need fancy lighting, complex stage setups, backing bands, acrobats or any other distractions, just raw talent and great songs.

On the second last song of her set, she got the audience to sing the harmonies, whilst she sung the song – it was a surreal but magical moment, a highlight of an evening which didn’t have any lowlights!

The subject matter on her latest album “Goners” it’s fair to say is dark, yet as The Smiths proved years ago, downbeat subjects when handled intelligently can be comforting and life affirming, and this is certainly the case here. I simply had to buy a copy on vinyl, which she graciously signed for me.  When you consider she’s played in Leicester on Monday, Dublin on Tuesday, and she’d just finished doing a session for 6 Music in Salford before playing her gig in the Soup Kitchen in Manchester’s northern quarter, a lot of artists might have been quite tetchy at someone asking them to sign their album, especially when they don’t have a pen to hand!  But she was great about it, and the guy behind me in the queue (or should I say, a fellow fan!) came to the rescue on the pen front!

As I was about to leave, another fan asked me if it was the green vinyl so I opened it to check – yes it was.  He already had the black vinyl so he bought the green too.  Another guy I’d been speaking to who’s been to lots of her gigs, had a look to see if there was anything new he could buy, but he already had them all.  It may sound like obsession, but if you were there, it all makes perfect sense!

With such an incredible headliner, finding a support band worthy of the slot couldn’t have been easy, but the promoters Hey! Manchester really pulled it out the bag with Kind Stranger, who are well worth going to see in their own right!  Strangely in this day and age, I can’t seem to find any trace of them on social media!

At a personal level it hasn’t been a great week.  Nothing major, usual kind of stuff, finding out an old class mate from secondary school died this week (we weren’t close or anything, but someone dying relatively young is always upsetting anyway, and it triggers all sorts of thoughts and emotions and of course when they are your age, you start to think about your own mortality), stress at work (things that should be relatively straight-fwd but are complicated by one reason or another) and in the wider world who doesn’t feel like screaming at the current state of UK politics?  But leaving the gig with a guy from Warrington I got speaking to who’s a massive fan and seen her lots of times, we were walking on air all the way back to Oxford Road, scratching our heads wondering why more people don’t know Laura’s music, and feeling sorry for them missing out on the incredible experience that her gig was. (The only thing bring us down being the very visible homeless problem in Manchester like in Liverpool and other cities).

People may think we’re mad traveling through to Manchester on a Wednesday night, but then Laura has come all the way from Oregon so it’s the least we can do.  In my book, we’re the sane ones!  I hope he keeps in touch as he had a lot of music recommendations, and clearly has impeccable taste!

It’s a cliche, but music really does bring people together and make the world a much better place.  You just need to get out there and find the gems, and Laura Gibson’s music is a great place to start!

Words + Pictures by John W. King
Also appears in Urbanista Magazine UK