Sometimes, there are moments in live shows where you just can’t believe it’s happening. Artists like Metallica, Radiohead, or Morrissey, with a huge back catalogue of songs most of their fans know inside out, change up their set with every show, so when you finally see them and they play the song you've always wanted to hear, it feels like a personal victory, like how a song you love always sounds better when it comes on the radio than if you play it off iTunes.
On Friday night Jamie T played an unplugged set at the Hackney Empire and, without sounding like the moistest guy in east London, it was a whole night of those moments. He played a mixture of acoustic old favourites, often lit by a single spotlight, alongside lush string-based arrangements of other rarities. There weren’t many singles, no “Sheila” or “If You Got The Money” or “Zombie” - instead it was new songs and fan favourites. This was a gig where the encore could be a version of a pre-debut album B-side called “Fox News”, and the crowd still lapped it up.
There was also a bunch of stuff from his less talked-about EPs, and “A Brand New Bass Guitar” with Jamie later admitting that if he’d known every time he walked down the street people would shout “FUCKING CROISSANT” at him, he might have opened his debut album differently.
Even the new songs, normally the lowlight of any indie gig, were pretty rapturous. He prefaced one, by saying, "I was in a pub a few years ago and, as you do, started talking about the Spanish Civil War and went home and decided to write a song about it. But as I sobered up I realised I didn't know anything about it! But as with any great songwriter I didn't let that stand in my way." Another unheard track, called "Young Bastard", which he played on a stand-up piano, had a Tom Waits if he’d drunk SKOL instead of whiskey vibe.
But for me, what topped it off was his cover of Billy Bragg’s “A New England”. That is a song that has been in my life since I was a kid, first the Kirsty MacColl version, which led me to the Billy Bragg original and then the Jamie T validation of my weird teenage music tastes. It is to my mind, one of the best bits of songwriting this frankly embarrassing nation has ever mustered, but it’s only Jamie’s two-note version that elucidates the broken dreams of adulthood and the dim salvation of romance. It was one of those moments I didn’t think you could get anymore at a Friday night indie show.
You can follow Sam on Twitter.