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Friday, 8 February 2013

Gigs - Bhi Bhiman - The Castle Hotel, Manchester

Star rating - 8/10

Although his gig at the Castle Hotel was American singer songwriter Bhi Bhiman's first performance in Manchester, hopefully he felt right at home as he is from Manchester himself - Manchester in St Louis County, Missouri that is. The son of Sri Lankan immigrants, his influences are as diverse as Woody Guthrie and ACDC. And his very distinctive, beautiful, soaring voice, and inspired song writing earned him a TV appearance on Jools Holland's Later last year.

And beneath the instant appeal of the more toe tapping numbers from his new self titled album, there belies some weightier subject matter. Kimchee Line, for instance, is about a North Korean prisoner who was forced to cook food for the president. And the slower, more measured Cookbook is a scathing attack on greedy American bankers. His seriously skilful guitar playing was shown to mesmerising effect on the wonderful Crime of Passion. He does that thing - like Justin Townes Earle - where he picks and strums at the same time - inspirational guitar playing indeed.

Bhiman's warm but dry sense of humour shines through his song writing in some fantastic lyrics. In Eye On You, about a jealous lover whose partner is having an affair he says:  "what you talkin' 'bout business trips - you work at the mall".
Ballerina is an everyday run of the mill story about a couple of lesbians who steal, kill a man and go on the run - he says it wrote itself! This great number has more than shades of Johnny Cash and June Carter's fabulous Jackson to it.

Guttersnipe is a fabulous song about a hobo riding the trains, as performed on Later. But there is more to Bhiman than country depths, I am very pleased to say he also does a great line in transforming cheesy 80's classic tunes into lovely acoustic numbers. He is apparently planning to release an EP of them, and frankly I can't wait. His versions of The Cars' My Best Friend's Girl was really something, and I know it sounds unlikely but his rendition of ACDC's Highway to Hell, sounded nothing like the original, which in my book is a distinct bonus.

The humble, unassuming Bhi Bhiman may look like an unlikely star, but he is one talented musician who had better get used to having his audiences sing the lyrics to his songs. His charming personality shone through his powerful performance, with his final crowd pleasing, group whistling encore of Walk of Life, and, as a fitting tribute to Reg Presley (I like to think so anyway - RIP), he left us with Wild Thing. Come back soon - this Manchester definitely wants more of another Manchester's son.

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