“We just do our bad Dylan impressions in dirty upstairs rooms” go the lyrics to Will Varley’s opening number, ‘As For My Soul’ at the one and only Brudenell Social Club. On this score, he’s his own worst critic – he actually does a very good Dylan impression, and more besides. Varley has been chatting and charming his way up and down the country for years now – he’s one of the old guard; an independent venue, Guinness can in-hand, one-man-and-guitar troubadour with wit to match his twinkling protest melodies.
Last time I saw him in Leeds, he played the end of his set while eating a ham sandwich from a harmonica holder. Now, hot off the back of warming up European arenas for Frank Turner, he’s every bit as rough around the edges, but seemingly more out of choice than out of tendency. By some travesty he’s in the Brudenell’s secondary space, the Games Room, rather than in the iconic main venue (the indie boppers down to see The Sherlocks clearly held the more promising prospects for the bar’s takings). He owns it though, turning the dirty downstairs room into a hotbed of hearty chanting, warm laughs and friendly heckling. For tonight, the low-ceilinged, 170 person black-box is the Social Club’s place to be.
Varley’s new stuff sits as comfortably with the crowd as the debut favourites, with Postcards from Ursa Minor adding more romping choruses and tender poetry to his already bursting roster. Highlights come in the form of ‘The Man Who Fell To Earth’ and ‘Until The Grass Gets Greener’ two of his newest and oldest respectively. He even treats us to a live debut of the lyrically dazzling ‘February Snow’, which he says he wrote the other day. He signs off with a flourish, delivering ‘King For A King’ and ‘I Got This Email’ with a stirring passion and pride.
The singer-songwriter’s ability to play a show like it’s their first and last is always a marvel, and Will is the master of live rejuvenation of his album tracks. This reviewer has had the pleasure of seeing Varley on four occasions now, and each show is a different beast. His signature sign off – “This is a song about being a waster” – which comes before his traditional set closer ‘I Got This Email’ is, at this point in his modest success, something of a statement of intent. His out-of-fashion, sign-of-our times songs are his roots – he’ll deservedly keep on getting bigger and better, but he’ll only ever stray so far.