Review: Gil Scott-Heron @ Manchester Opera House
It is to my great shame that I have never seen Gil Scott-Heron before, and it was with great relief that we got to see him in Manchester last night, as Gil told us the unpronounceable volcano scuppered plans for his earlier gigs. This reviewer was particularly happy to see him as I arrived at the Palace Theatre, saw no-one there and assumed it had been cancelled until another look at the ticket told him it was in a completely different venue – i don’t need natural disasters to fuck things up, just a natural ability i guess.
Natural ability is as good a phrase as any for Gil Scott-Heron, he strolls on stage and sparks up a conversation with the audience like he has just been away for five minutes and immediately he has them in the palm of his hand, there cannot be one person in that venue who has not heard the joke about the dwarf being ‘not happy’ but the place was still rolling when Gil cracked it, and whole venue was hanging on every word for the rest of the gig.
Plenty has been said about Gil’s private life, his battles, his demons, his flaws that made him and shaped him – plenty has been said but how much of it is true? He tells us he is constantly learning new things about himself, about how he was reading that his album has a dark melancholy because he has just been released from prison - this confuses him as having been released from prison, sad was the last thing he was feeling, this raises a laugh but when he sings songs like The Bottle you know that his demons are never far away, free or not.
In songs like Is that Jazz? (before which we are treated to a very amusing explanation of the etymology of the word jazz – you had to be there though, sorry) we get to meet the band, unfortunately we hear a bit too much from the band as the night goes on, i realise life is taking its toll Gil, but bongo solos are never a good idea – but we also hear Gil at his best on Winter in America, Pieces of a Man and We Almost Lost Detroit. Interestingly he never played anything of his new album, when he plays the tracks he did that’s fine by me, but at the end i did feel it was a little short, but when you have a back catalogue like his any gig will feel short.
I had a spare ticket at one stage last night and i offered it to a friend who turned it down because ‘he playing some festivals’ this year, I think my friend might have made a mistake though, the Opera House was a great venue for a gig like this, offering an intimacy and closeness with the performer that i think this gig needed, i’m not sure this would work as well in a festival setting, that said if you get a chance to see him – don’t turn it down.