Roddy Woomble - The Wardrobe, Leeds

by Andy Brown Rating: Release Date:

It’s strange to think that the first time I saw Roddy Woomble perform was 16 years ago, at Glastonbury 2000. I have vague memories of watching David Bowie’s set from a distance, of seeing a fledgling Muse years before they would headline the festival and seeing a young Mr Woomble scream his heart out with the ever-wonderful Idlewild.

Back then Woomble would face away from the crowd for much of the set, flailing around the stage as the band launched into songs from 100 Broken Windows and their debut LP, Hope is Important. In those early years Idlewild were the embodiment of youthful enthusiasm; matching an irrepressible urgency to Woomble’s poetic lyricism and a feeling that everything was just teetering on the edge of collapse.

Flash forward 16 years and I’m stood in the considerably less muddy Wardrobe in the centre of Leeds, ready to watch Woomble perform folky solo album My Secret is My Silence in its entirety. The albums rustic, mellow instrumentation was a million miles away from those formative years. Woomble’s lyrics had always had a searching, restless quality to them but here they were stripped of their noise and presented as intimate, philosophical folktales. 

Like the album, tonight’s set begins with the meditative musings of ‘I Came in From the Mountain’. A quietly plucked acoustic guitar supports Woomble’s gentle, semi-spoken vocals as he sings, “but we don’t change/ what we don’t see/ because we affect each other endlessly”. The songs were already introspective and tonight that feeling of wistful melancholy washes through the room with every note. I haven’t heard these songs in years and I’m struck by how much they hit home.

It’s clear from the outset that these songs have stood the test of time. From the urgency of folk-rock belter ‘As Still as I Watch Your Grave’ to to quietly anthemic ‘Waverly Steps’, any songwriter would be pleased with a set of songs as strong as this. It’s a joy to hear the frankly beautiful ‘If I Could Name any Name’ in such intimate surroundings and great to watch an older, calmer Woomble deliver such an assured performance.

It wouldn’t be entirely fair to call My Secret is My Silence a solo record as the bands input is utterly crucial to the records tone and feel. This becomes apparent as I watch tonight’s show. It’s on the livelier tracks in particular that the songs really come to life. Every member of the band appears to be in their element on stage, lost in some impromptu folk-jam in the corner of some cosy public house; Hannah Fisher’s violin runs through the heart of the songs as Andrew Wasylyk summons up in his inner Richard Thompson. It’s a pleasure to watch a band so in tune with who they are and the music they’re performing.

Woomble is quietly confident throughout, secure in the knowledge that ten years on these songs are still received so affectionately. At one point he tells us that the album was recorded quite quickly and that he struggles to remember what some of them are actually about. Deciphering the lyrics may come down to personal interpretation but there’s no denying that people have taken these songs to heart.

The band encore with a splattering of tracks from other releases and although less familiar they show a band, and a songwriter, with plenty to offer. My Secret is My Silence is undoubtedly a special album to many here tonight and it’s heartening to see it performed with the passion it deserves. While it’s far from unusual for bands to tour classic albums, tonight feels unique. This isn’t an album or a performance for arenas and headlining slots at huge festivals, it’s far too special for that.

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