Steve Pledger is the perfect example of modern protest singer, enriching his songs with clarity of thought, sublime guitar skills and the ability to hold the attention of the listener. His is not music for the background. His inspirations include Billy Bragg, Martyn Joseph and Bruce Cockburn and, as such, offers a powerful voice for our times. It was a privilege, therefore, to attend the launch of his fourth studio album What Tomorrow Knows, in the fittingly grandiose Victorian splendour of Durham Town Hall. The album isn’t officially released until November 28th, so this gathering was the earliest opportunity to hear this majestic album.
The beautiful surroundings drew gasps of delight as visitors entered the room, the stage looking amazing with the backdrop of dark wood panelling and an eye-catching stained glass window which would grace any cathedral. On the stage were Steve’s trusty Martin guitar, with which he has travelled for several years. Beside it, gleaming under the lights, his new Gibson guitar was ready to make its debut. Intriguingly, an electric guitar was also waiting its turn.
Steve took to the stage, opening with Deacon Blue’s ‘Dignity’, which segued smoothly into the foot-stomping ‘I Spat Fire’. The scene was set. Next up were four songs from the new album. ‘Same Smile, Same Words’ hails from the days of Theresa May at Number 10 and, as such, familiar to gig goers, in which Steve expresses contempt for the vacuous words of a moribund government; fine tuned through the hiatus caused by Covid, to bring us right up to date with the doings at Westminster. ‘Sister, Dear’ was written a little later, Steve pushing himself on with exquisite fingerpicking, and performed across the country until also taking its rightful place on the album.
“Here’s a song I wrote which I’m not good enough to play”, opined Steve. We beg to differ.
Amongst this quartet were songs airing for the first time. ‘Fields That Still Divide’ laments humanity’s inability to find common ground, no matter our differences; played out to a funky groove and playful vocals. ‘Revelation’ addresses the damage caused by a long-term controlling relationship. Hugely powerful, Steve acknowledged his wife and stated the song is in no way autobiographical!
The other new songs aired in the first half included ‘Salt From The Sea’, Steve’s take on Brexit. For such a polarising subject Steve is non-judgemental, preferring to focus on addressing the outcome of the country’s decision, and trying to live with it as best we can.
‘The Stagehand’s Tale’ holds back not one iota, portraying a tale of some seedy back-street theatre (probably in Westminster) of failed actors, clawing at each other to take centre stage and consistently failing to deliver. And if you think the current lot should be booed off, the stage just wait till you see the understudies.
The second set opened with another ‘new’ old favourite ‘The Baptist’s Father’, reminding us that we all have a voice, and we must use our hard won right to express our views lest that right be eroded. And then onto the intriguingly titled ‘Blabscam’, a term coined by journalist Christopher Hitchens when addressing the imbalance shown by political talk shows when presenting two sides to an argument. Steve welcomed his son Isaac to the stage. Plugging in the electric guitar, Isaac performed sublimely, accompanying his father with powerful bluesy riffs in a relaxed manner suggesting nearly as many years’ live gigging as dear old dad.
And so the gig reached its crescendo, with all of the album songs performed, interspersed with a few old favourites. Such an enthusiastic response from the audience, singing heartily to gig favourites, clapping in rhythm and roaring their approval. Steve’s connection with his audience was there for all to see.
And the overriding message rang clear. Is holding back the right way forward? Standing up and doing what we can to realise a better life for all of us is fundamental. As Steve surmises in ‘Hope In Our Hands’: “And let’s suppose what tomorrow knows, and shake these chains once more”. We struggle on for better days, but we can do so in the belief that our efforts will not be in vain.
A standing ovation for Steve, and still time for a rousing encore of ‘Creation is Laughing’ and Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’. This was Steve Pledger at his powerful best, a gig to grace the finest of venues, and we wish him well on his upcoming tour.
Artist’s website: www.stevepledger.co.uk
‘The Baptist’s Father’ – official video (but, sadly, not live):
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