Photos: Sapphire Mason-Brown

The writers of 'The Sopranos' may disagree, but there is a psychological human need for closure. After being cast into the deep, dark waters of instability and potential obscurity, John Grant found himself being rescued by the collective extended arm of country-rock outfit Midlake. Once The Czars broke up, John Grant was in the musical equivalent of “No Man’s Land”. Fortunately, he has recently burst back onto the scene thanks to his near-perfect album release last year, The Queen Of Denmark, for which Midlake acted as his backing band. This performance at The Royal Festival Hall felt like a thank you and a goodbye from John Grant and Midlake as the two artists performed songs from the album which has seemingly placed John Grant back on much surer footing.

The first thing which strikes you about Grant as a performer is his stage presence; tall and muscular he commands the stage, and his deep, booming voice rumbles through the PA and purrs up your trouser leg. He began the show minus Midlake to showcase a couple of tunes said to be from his next release, and it is immediately clear, and joylessly reassuring, to hear that they are as good as anything from his already glittering back catalogue. Dramatic, yearning piano-led songs full of dark humour and sadistic wit; he describes them as love songs with an “I hope you end up in a fucking wheelchair” attitude. A strange moment occurs during the set opener, after a typically flamboyant synth solo from the big man himself, the audience burst into subdued laughter at the sheer ridiculous extravagance of the 80s synth contrasted with the tender, beautiful piano melody.

After a couple of songs alone, out came Midlake (minus Tim Smith, but plus violinist Fiona Brice) to elated applause. Throughout the show, Grant introduced each member of the band (variably with the line, “When I first met ‘So-and-so’, I thought he was the biggest asshole”, to much audience amusement) and detailed how they have personally helped him during those darker days and throughout the recording of The Queen Of Denmark. These moments were genuinely touching and reinforced the feeling of closure for this particular chapter of Grant’s career. When they kicked into their first collaborative live performance of the night, ‘Sigourney Weaver’, it was clear how potent a chemistry the two artists have developed during their time together. Even though the songs performed by Grant alone were more powerful and moving in sentiment, it was clear that the album merits Midlake’s inclusion as far as live performances go, with John looking less isolated and more at ease with “his boys” behind him.

It was testament to the brilliance of the album to see that every song performed from The Queen Of Denmark, and not a single track was omitted, was rapturously received by entire crowd, a virtual sell-out in the large, recently redeveloped Royal Festival Hall. Despite everybody in attendance being seated, everyone was perched on the edge of their seat in order to hang on every word spoken and every line sung. Eric Pulido, stood next to John at the front of the stage, provided backing acoustic guitar and those essential harmonies for each track and, having allowed John speak for the entire gig about how grateful he was when Midlake offered to be his backing band for free, took the chance towards the end of the show to thank John for writing the songs which they have obviously adored ever since. The love for which each artist bestowed onto each other was visibly sincere and it was hard not share in the emotional exchange, and hugs, between the two artists at the end of the show.

John finished the show, once again, on his own to perform an old The Czars song, ‘Little Pink House’ which was written for his grandmother – a very important figure for John when he was growing up. It was a stark reminder that, although John Grant is back with a fantastic album to his name and with seemingly more great material on the way, he has always been a great song-writer. It’s a travesty that he fell from the radar so dramatically before and I hope with all my heart that he never does so again.