Belfast Telegraph

Lauded by the likes of David Bowie...Alec Ounsworth and 30 people gathered in a house outside Bristol

By Mike Gilson

I’ve seen the future of rock and roll and it’s 30 people gathered in an unprepossessing house near Bristol.

They’ve ventured out into the unknown to see a guy and his guitar. Two hours later they’re bowled over by the man and in love with his music. On their long journeys home they couldn’t stop grinning many of them later post on their Facebook pages.

They’ve come from deepest Cornwall and Wales as well as Bristol. It’s quite a commitment. When they bought their tickets they had no idea where they’d end up. How do I know this? I was there. In fact the idea to invite the musician was mine. Except I suggested to a good friend that he sacrifice his house, not mine, to this new concept. That is why he is upbraiding me for having this dumb idea in the first place.

It’s two hours before the strangers are due to arrive and over fortifying beers he’s gone all reproachful and in truth I’m pretty nervous even though I have no stake in this. Of course this isn’t any old musician who’s playing for us tonight. It’s Alec Ounsworth, the lead singer and songwriter with US band Clap Your Hands Say Yeah.

Angular, oozing intelligence but with danceable guitar riffs to die for CYHSY’s eponymous first album in 2005 blew me and thousands of others away. Lauded by the likes of Davids Bowie and Byrne three more albums of high points followed but Alec didn’t go on to fill big stadiums. He wasn’t really about that. It’s why he’s playing for us tonight and it’s why my friend , who would later claim that he discovered CYHSY brazenly overlooking my part in bringing them to his attention, is pacing the floor fretting about whether we can really get everyone in his front room.

When the doorbell goes and the first few people enter it’s all awkward hellos and silences. Once all in it’s clear there are a fair few hipster beards and quite a few girls. What is also clear is that we are far and away the oldest there. It’s like Dads allowing the kids to have a party but deciding to stay themselves. Then Alec arrives. He’s played to thousands before but tonight he’s arrived in a small hire car with just his guitar and a bagful of merchandise. He’s utterly charming, his East Coast nerdy shyness putting us all at ease. But that still doesn’t prepare us for his show.

He strips all his songs back to their brilliantly constructed foundations, plays astonishingly dextrous guitar and puts as much into it as if he were playing at the White House. We are all a little awestruck. He lets us throw requests and answers our questions. It’s one of the best gigs I’ve ever been to and I’ve been to hundreds.

Later after our guests have left Alec joins us for a beer in the garden. No-one buys records any more, he says, small and connected to the audience is where you have to be. His Living Room tour, which runs alongside some traditional CYHSY gigs across Europe, has been a big hit in the US and there’s no doubt this sort of thing will grow over here as we tire of cynical formulaic music and seek something more exciting, boundary pushing, organic.

A return to what music is all about. A few hours later we’ve talked bands, life and all else and we’ve tried not to sound like two fan boys given that he is considerably younger than us. Then we help him load up his car as he considers the journey to his next front room show in Edinburgh tomorrow. We wave after him as the car lights recede convinced we are in on the start of something good.

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