You may not have heard of him, but Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy could possibly be one of the greatest musicians you haven’t heard of. Being an active musician since 1993 when he released music under the names Palace Brothers and Palace Music, Will Oldham then in 1998 came up with a new title which would stick to this day and see him create some of his most memorable work. Including the 1999 album I SEE A DARKNESS where the title track gained a worldwide appeal and also saw a recording of that track made by the legendary Johnny Cash. Go forward some years and after a high number of well-received albums, Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy is back in London for two nights at the St John-At-Hackney Church. This is how the night went…
Arriving on stage for a more electric performance than that of Hackney Empire in 2012, Will Oldham and his gang of musicians make their presence known immediately by ploughing through hits from the 21 year history of Will Oldham’s Palace and Bonnie Prince Billy history. The few moments of laughter come between songs as Bonnie/Will makes comments about lowering the fingering on the double-bass and stating “Thats the story of my wife…I mean life”. A big part of the night was the presence of David Ferguson, a high figure in music as he has worked with many top musicians and was also engineer for Johnny Cash on many of his later recordings.
The setlist provided plenty of variety, whether it was ‘Night Noises’ from WOLFROY GOES TO TOWN, the classic ‘The Spell Of The Freight Train’ and covers galore. The covers of Everly Brothers classics ‘Omaha’ and ‘I Wonder If I Care As Much’ really do well with this crowd that has an audience range aged between early 20’s to early 60’s. The cover of R. Kelly’s ‘The World’s Greatest’ was also completely unexpected but worked a treat for the crowd. The highlight of the night does come from the brilliant ‘I See A Darkness’ as it is given a more upbeat and fun vibe compared to its melancholic tone of the 1999 original recording. A story is told about Bonnie meeting David Ferguson in LA as he was making I SEE A DARKNESS and spoke about getting to then meet Johnny Cash and The Man In Black eventually recording his own rendition of the song.
The night was great, the music was chilled throughout the concert and Bonnie Prince Billy made sure he had fun with the crowd in front of him. Seeing him in 2012, the group he had brought a fairly acoustic set to the Hackney Empire, but having this electric gave a huge spark to the band and to see his working relationship with guitarist Emmett Kelly is still strong and the music that comes is still as brilliant as the recordings I have listened to over the past few years. A great show and I look forward to his return to the UK
Final Rating: 8.5/10
Written by Jonjo Cosgrove