DAVID THOMAS BROUGHTON is being more fully appreciated by commentators within the commercial media these days. His talent was clear at his earliest gigs, but so too was a persistent need to refer to his performances as "difficult", "awkward" or even "shit" (see http://www.whisperinandhollerin.com/reviews/review.asp?id=2103 for an eloquent use of that useful term).
The simple fact is that the man's excellence has always had the full range of specific facets that contributed to the obvious delight of tonight's Bristol audience. Audiences are just starting to catch up to where he has been for over a decade.
His voice is flexible and rich with considerable range and power. He can croon gently, he can bellow like one of his song's desperate characters and he can do an impressive manly baritone. He walked the length of The Grain Barge's former grain hold with no mic but could still project his doleful regret for a violent murder to the whole company.
His lyrics take a startlingly direct approach to his subject matter. Perhaps a nod to Bill Callaghan is appropriate? He is sparing with adjectives and he makes full use of the intonation to be heard among the oldest residents of Otley in West Yorkshire where he grew up.
"I brawled under alcohol, I fought with fist and tooth. I cut a figure both frenzied and uncouth. I deeply regret all events that did pass. I killed a man wi’ a broken glass" is the kind of thing that ennobles his verses at every turn. Those lines, taken from "In Service", sung tonight with JUICE VOCAL vamping a three part harmony on a repeated "killed a man wi’ a broken glass" are typical. The repressed emotional violence is compelling. The lyrics are a significant part of the pleasure. Praise be, sound quality in the Grain Barge was particularly good and the lyrics were clear throughout the evening with the intentional exceptional when their repetitions were sung through a distorting toy megaphone, just to keep us on the interesting side of worried.
His use of looped guitar, distorted voice and squeaky toys has become an effortless delight. These are techniques he has perfected and which he deploys instinctively and expressively. A fierce stab on a foot pedal, while looking nonchalantly into the middle distance, can bring an angry juddering to an otherwise calm passage; a reintroduction of an earlier theme can link sections together; successive waves of guitar soloing can layer up into a frantic pyramid. It's improvised, it's in some ways random, but it adds to the signal it doesn't just make "noise" (or shit). Broughton has been developing a unique sonic vocabulary that can extend his precise lyrics and ancient-sounding tunes into more challenging (or personally sensitive) experience. Flickers of irredeemable male guilt sharpen the lyrical involvement.
His sense of theatre and humour is already well documented. Audiences laugh, not just because they are confused or embarrassed but also (most often) because they are delighted by the absurd situations and apparent clumsiness. Buster Keaton and Michael Crawford come to mind. He's a tall man who moves slowly with a very upright stance. It's a delight to see him tangled up and flustered (just as we so often are), changing his mind several times in a single movement. Every improvised action is just one more rehearsal that enriches both the current performance and his next.
So how do JUICE VOCAL add anything? There is a recording on the way, so the musical delights can be checked later – they are considerable. On tonight's performances they added an opening set of songs from their own wide repertoire that framed the evening as an event that would be rich, rewarding and demanding of close attention with good humour as well as deep commitment. On their first song, a cover on Guns N' Roses "Sweet Child O' Mine", I didn't even think about the original rock song. I was immediately taken by the vocal trickeries and embellishments. As well as the harmony there were clicks, whoops, swooshes and other sorts of beat box sounds (pitched and unpitched) that took my inner ear back to Sweet Honey In the Rock's "Breaths". With inordinately well controlled pitch (slides too) and an incredible range it was not surprising to learn later that they are pro-musicians by learning and trade. Their own set gave us a glimpse of their wide range. In performing with our Yorkshire Lad they also showed that they had pretty strong empathy with his idiosyncratic approach – holding the musical cake together while drinking tea, pulling out his hair and going into distracted trance routines as the mood took them.
If they don't tour together again at some point the world will be a sadder place.