The Palmeira, Hove
3 May 2013
At Hove's Palmeira pub last night Mike Taylor, the man behind the Hiss Golden Messenger monicker, memorably compared his songwriting to building lightning conductors. Putting the songs out there and seeing if a flash of electricity will coruscate through them... He has a remarkable hit-rate and his fine set fairly crackled with spine-tingling moments. A definite smell of ozone, I'd say.
It was impressive that Taylor, and fellow traveller guitar maestro William Tyler, were even awake and coherent, having flown in from the US over the previous night, the airline mislaying their merchandise crate along the way. They seemed genuinely pleased to be doing what they were doing and both were on strong form. The only obvious sign of a fuddled brain came from Mike forgetting a line from his encore song 'Jesus Shot Me In The Head.' He checked with the audience, started again and nailed it with a glorious performance.
The latest HGM album Haw benefits from varied arrangements and a range of other musical contributions, but there is a particular intensity in hearing the songs played solo: concentrating more on the words, through his rich, slightly slurry, vocal delivery, against the backdrop of the sinuous pulse of his distinctive guitar style.
And just what is going on in those words? I'm happy to report that I can't exactly tell you. There is that intriguing sense of something lurking, alluded to and not fully addressed, sometimes light, sometimes dark. There is a lot of biblical imagery, which doesn't seem to be used for straightforwardly biblical purposes: introducing one song, Taylor described trying and failing to persuade a gospel singer friend to record a backing vocal for it - 'she belongs to the church, I belong to something else'. But there is nothing casual or manipulative about this; he clearly understands the weight and power of the pictures he is painting, in anticipation of a time 'when the truth will be revealed as something we can't see'.
Incidentally, I haven't seen an explanation anywhere of the Hiss Golden Messenger name: my take, for what it's worth, would be another twist of biblical image - 'His golden messenger' evoking an angel or a prophet, the extra sibilant showing that the serpent is closely involved in this too... Pretty much the human condition, really.
Whatever. There is a depth and a heft to what HGM does which sets those sort of thought patterns going. Dive into Haw, or catch him on this tour, and see what Taylor's songs will do for you.
And a PS for Mike: do a song or two with William - that would be great.