John Grant assessment – uncanny magnificence with jagged edges | Music

Grant (far left) and Chris Pemberton ( far right) with singers from London Contemporary Voices.

With its Corinthian columns, stained-glass crucifixion scene and aroma of incense, the Christopher Wren-designed St James’s church on London’s Piccadilly is an uncommon gig venue. And even making an allowance for its progressive status, it’s an fascinating setting for a person whose strict Methodist household advised him he was going to hell for being homosexual, and who sings traces as spicy because the one on the T-shirts he sells: “I hope you understand that every one I need from you is intercourse.”

Then once more, John Grant’s songwriting feeds on radical contrasts. He anatomises the ugliest depressive episodes and the bitterest break-ups with beautiful melodies and a chocolatey baritone. He likes his magnificence to have jagged edges.

This present, his first in six months, is hand made for the Piccadilly piano festival. Grant has carried out with rock bands, orchestras and electro-house outfits, however this minimalist lineup – Grant on the Fazioli grand, Chris Pemberton on synths – cries out for a set dominated by Queen of Denmark, the 2010 solo debut album that turned his life round. These songs are so handsomely constructed that they require little embellishment. Other than some fabulously abrasive analogue squelching on the finish of Marz and the croak of a Converse & Spell machine on Contact and Go, the synths are deployed with a light-weight contact, gently suggesting bass and strings. Grant’s muscular piano-playing is the star.

Grant (far left) and Chris Pemberton ( far right) with singers from London Contemporary Voices.
Grant (far left) and Chris Pemberton ( far proper) with singers from London Up to date Voices. {Photograph}: Sophia Evans/The Observer

4 songs are crammed out by 10 singers from London Up to date Voices. At first they’re too muted and ornamental, considerably drowned out by the pressure of Grant’s efficiency, however they sound celestial on Glacier, his wrenching hymn to emotional survival within the face of prejudice. “It seems like lots of people want to listen to this one proper now,” he says. “Myself included.”

Greater than as soon as Grant says he’s discovering consolation in his most painfully candid materials. A music may sound unhappy to you, he says, however to him it’s an actual “hoot and holler”. The suggestion of a troubled mind-set provides additional weight to the magnificent screaming rage of Queen of Denmark and the utter desperation of It Doesn’t Matter to Him, however with Grant there may be all the time laughter at nighttime. On Gray Tickles, Black Stress he describes paralysing melancholy earlier than admitting, “There are kids who’ve most cancers so all bets are off, ’trigger I can’t compete with that.”

Because the present proceeds, Grant loosens up and will get chatty. He brushes off a request for Sigourney Weaver, a quintessential mix of comedy and ache, and as an alternative begins Drug, an previous music by his first band, the Czars. However midway by he forgets the chords and decides to play Sigourney Weaver anyway. “I’m going to do what I ought to have accomplished earlier,” he winces. “Son of a bitch.” With an artist as trustworthy as this in a venue as intimate as this, the snafu is extra endearing than embarrassing. Snatching an imposing finale from a second of ragged vulnerability, it’s an acceptable ending to a one-off present of uncanny energy.