Looking over the multitude of murmuring heads and towards the stage, I spy the slight frame of Oliver Richards stood behind his guitar greeting the crowd with a shy grin and a modest introduction awaiting the start of his supporting act for the legendary Midge Ure. Alone apart from his instrument and the beam from a solitary spotlight, Oliver eased into his set as the crowd hushed in anticipation at hearing some relatively new talent. With Oliver’s eyes down to a full house, a strong, confident voice danced through the seated audience and he introduced everyone to his music.
In Oliver’s solo act he shows variation between songs, moving from the quiet, gentle folk of “Stone House Hill” to the soft soul sophistication of “Go Baby” and the foot-stomping jiggery of “Master Chancer”. There is is also variation within his songs, his voice bursting forth then retreating with innate subtlety while he manipulates his guitar with ringing arpeggios, staccato rhythms and dextrous fingerwork from both hands. He blends both voice and instrument to become one entity.
As the evening progressed, the avid listeners more than warmed to Oliver and his music. He needed no pithy introductions between songs as he let his skill and quiet charm do the talking. A disadvantage of playing your own material is that there is less familiarity to grab the audience’s attention. Oliver managed to do this and more through the sheer strength of his songwriting and his ability to use his powerful sound. Even when they became a bit distracted during a short break for retuning, they chatted quietly amongst themselves which died down when Oliver started fingerpicking his next song, providing an aural massage to soothe the restless crowd. Silence and rapt attention prevailed when the singing rang out once again.
There was a blend of influences in his music, combining American soul with accompanying vocal growls and the softly accented whispers and open chords of contemporary folk. None of these seemed contrived or forced, having been part of his musical upbringing. His lyrics are intelligent without being pretentious and down-at-home folksy without being parochial. The guitar playing was technically impressive but not painfully so, the technique being used to provide a shimmer to a performance already full of depth, spirit and character.
This was highlighted halfway through his set in “Master Chancer”, a song that Oliver had been working on since the age of 16. This dedication shone through as the multilayered tune combining rhythmic double stops, slinky fret slides and sizzling trills. The shift from major to minor chords and back again also added to the ebb and flow of the song’s moods.
On the strength of last year’s performance, he was asked back to support Midge Ure, definitely holding his own and providing a fitting introduction to the Ultravox and Band Aid frontman. He used the sound, the stage, his voice and his guitar to full effect, wowing the crowd whose appreciation rang through at the end with their loud applause and respectful cheering. The mixed audience seemed to be won over by this talented young figure on stage, one lady even asking me what cover versions he was playing as he was that good. For a masterclass in understated showmanship, Oliver Richards is an untapped seam of musical gold.
For Dave’s exclusive after-show interview with Oliver click here:
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[For up and coming gigs and other Oliver-related news go to the OR Promotions webpage]