There is an old, perhaps hackneyed, saying – what goes around comes around.
The logic being sooner or later, everyone finds themselves in the right place at the right time at least once or twice in life.
For Martin Harley, his star has arguably risen anew in light of a ‘tweevolution’ in the charts.
Not long before his show at The Boileroom on February 27, breakthrough folksters Mumford & Sons were unveiled as one this year’s Reading Festival headliners, hot on the heels of their 2013 headlining show at Glastonbury.
A slew of like acts, not to mention the return of Fleetwood Mac, has inspired an acoustic folk and blues revival in recent years, breathing new life into a genre of music that has long been dormant, at least in terms of mainstream acclaim.
Now, in light of old-fashioned blues and folk finding chart-topping success, Martin Harley similarly finds himself riding the crest of a popular wave, one which sees him, unsurprisingly, draw quite a crowd at The Boileroom.
Hailing originally from south Wales, Harley’s family moved to Woking in his youth so Friday’s show also comes as something of a homecoming for the bluesy troubadour, who has taken his act around the world since penning his 2003 eponymous debut album.
While delivering a career-spanning set, there is still a particular focus on 2012’s Mojo Fix, the title track of which provides a rip-roaring introduction to Harley’s music and his consummate showmanship after more than a decade on the road.
Blessed with a voice that carries a certain tenderness that resonates beautifully around the intimate environs of a venue like The Boileroom, Harley peppers his set with an early salvo of saccharine acoustic numbers.
Yet he holds back a fiery, snarling, rasping yelp that propels some of his more lairy numbers, which, after a slightly hokey start, drives the second half of the show on to a more raucous conclusion.
A fitting centrepiece is Harley’s cover of Tom Waits’ brilliantly twisted Chocolate Jesus, which despite being given a cutesy makeover by Harley and co, loses none of the intensity of Waits’ gloomy original.
During the latter stages of his set, Harley, his bassist and drummer, fully unplug and serenade The Boileroom completely acoustic.
It’s a poignant moment, if a little corny, but it’s as brilliantly judged as it is received. Again, it speaks of Harley’s stagecraft, as well as the crowd’s polite reverence, that the venue falls deathly silent while Harley’s gentle croons wash over proceedings.
However, the set thankfully culminates with a vicious flurry of slide guitar numbers, including a spellbinding rendition of Love In The Afternoon where we see the Martin Harley Band, as a collective, finally cut loose.
It feels like a fitting conclusion after a topsy-turvy journey through Harley’s influences and heritage, which he wears proudly on his sleeve.
Martin Harley clearly has the skill, talent and presence to grace venues far in excess of the size of The Boileroom so it is with gusto the crowd give him the warmest of send offs after a near hour-and-a-half set; catch him now while he’s still doing the rounds.
Pictures by Sophie Garrett.
Originally published on Get Surrey, 03/03/15