Star rating – 7/10
Gorton Monastery is one of my favourite buildings in Manchester (and if you haven’t paid a visit then you really should) so when I heard it was staging a Cowboy Junkies gig it was a no brainer. This isn’t your usual concert venue, with its beautiful high candlelit altar, spectacularly illuminated with red and purple lighting, and high vaulted ceiling in the Pugin masterpiece, but it made for a great atmospheric evening.
Cowboy Junkies are a Canadian country style band with a backbone of a sister and two brothers combo. They have been making music together for over 25 years, and their ease in each other’s company really shows, as well as having an enormous back catalogue on which to draw. Tonight was the show case both for their current, just released CD Renmin Park, and also for a CD coming out in February which is a tribute to their friend Vic Chestnut who died recently, and consists of covers of his songs.
Margo Timmins is a shy front woman, who sung quite a few songs before being able to acknowledge the respectful and hushed audience. I’m not sure if it was the monastical surroundings that made everyone so quiet and respectful, or if Junkies audiences are always like that, although it has to be said that it was quite a mature audience, to put it politely. The rest of the band including her brother Pete on drums, and Michael on guitar, and also the band’s gifted songwriter, seem happy to take a back seat and let the music do the talking.
As always for me it is the ballads that I love best, and Margo Timmins has a pure voice made especially for them, soaring as it did high into the eaves of the roof with its beautiful, strong clarity. The highlight of the evening for me for was their rendition of my favourite CJ song, ‘Misguided Angel’. And some of the tracks from the forthcoming Chestnut covers ‘Demons’ CD also sound very promising, such as ‘Supernatural’. Some of the more rocky numbers didn’t really resonate with me much, I think the CJs are best when singing and playing from the heart, rather than trying to imitate Hendrix or the Stones, one of whose numbers they covered in the set.
The band didn’t seem to like the practicalities of the venue very much, probably a fair point, and to nitpick, it would have been better to have the stage elevated a tad to avoid craning necks all night. But for me the night belonged to the ballads, to Margo’s angelic voice, and to the spiritual surroundings of the monastery itself. Let’s hope they stage more gigs here in future.