Folk for Free is a monthly live music event held in the foyer bar at Symphony Hall, showcasing some of Birmingham’s finest singer-songwriter talent. This month the audience was treated to an hour with Micky Greaney, who the compare quipped in the introduction as ‘the best songwriter in Birmingham, except maybe for Ozzy.’
The Symphony Hall’s huge glass foyer entrance made an ideal backdrop to the performance. The hectic rush hour commotion of buses, mothers with prams, taxis and commuters outside the window somehow perfectly complimented his mellow, folk soft-rock ballads. The first half was just Greaney playing solo; his songs were admittedly very generic, all with comfortably familiar verse, bridge, chorus structures and gently resolving chords. Yet despite this, the performance was actually genuinely affecting and moving.
Greaney has the shambling goateed gravitas to pull off a style of music that in the hands of a lesser writer or performer could come off as slightly cliqued sentimentality. It was perfectly formed song writing, albeit traditional. There were tender spooky moments when silence fell over the audience, even the children; the Symphony Hall became a calm oasis in the hectic town centre. There was one really standout Starsailor-esque song, Satellite, in which Greaney’s voice sounded something akin to Fleet Foxes vocalist Robin Pecknold and his haunting melodic hooks rolled over each other gracefully.
The folk soft-rock ballad, though it can be over earnest and sentimental, is an undeniably enduring genre and is a style that is perhaps unfairly ‘uncool’ now. However, there is a particular innocence in using the simple conventions of pop-rock. Melody seems to have fallen out of favour with our generation’s songwriters, which is a shame. These songs were beautifully affecting and Greaney’s simple bare bones, nuts and bolts craftsmanship of them drew a huge, warm, affectionate crowd. He also came out at the interval for a pint with the fans and was an utterly charming, humble bloke.
The second half premiered his swaggering new band. Complete with the usual pop-rock line-up of keys, bass and drums, they had the added extra of two female backing vocalists giving it a gospel vibe. The fidgeting children were captivated by the band. It soared through the vast foyer so most toes were tapping and heads bobbing by the second tune. Nevertheless, not everything had changed after the interval; there was yet another gorgeous ballad midway through with three part harmonies, ensuring that the audience were left smiling.
Words by James Grady