See Through Sound concert for RNIB, Cadogan Hall, London, 14.10.16

A beautiful venue, a great cause, a very funny man and a much-loved heartstring-tugger... moments of magic at this gig for the blind

Oct 19th, 2016 at Cadogan Hall, London / By Ben Wood
See Through Sound concert for RNIB, Cadogan Hall, London, 14.10.16 The RNIB's See Through Sound concert took place somewhat outside Bearded's normal parameters. Instead of a grotty room over a pub, a gorgeous turn-of-the-century Byzantine Revival church in super-posh Belgravia. Instead of a tenner on the door, £25 a ticket in aid of the Royal National Institute of Blind People. And, instead of up-and-coming indie types, the first half of the bill featured rather more mainstream fare. But whether you were here for the cause, to see 'that bloke off the telly' or for one of the hipper acts, there was something for everyone.

As we entered Cadogan Hall - a classical venue with great acoustics - we were given some funky-looking 'sim specs'. They looked like those ones you get given to watch 3D films - but these made everything go blurry and were designed to replicate the experience of being partially sighted. As headliner Damon Gough - aka Badly Drawn Boy - said later, we should be grateful for the things we take for granted...

The first few acts were well-received by an enthusiastic - and by the second half, well-refreshed - crowd. We don't imagine you, gentle reader, logged on to Bearded to hear about that bloke who won The Voice, for instance (former Liberty X star Kevin Simm, if you don't know...). However, major props to everyone for coming out to support the RNIB - including electro-poppers Vaults and singer-songwriter Andy Jordan from Made in Chelsea, who played the gig on the same day as a mate's funeral. And, while this writer can take or leave chart-topping Newton Faulkner's songs, the man sure can play guitar - and ending on Bohemian Rhapsody was a definite crowd-pleaser. Everyone joined in with the Scaramouches, we're glad to say...

But from a Bearded perspective, things really kicked off with the appearance of comic, MC and actor Ben Bailey Smith, aka Doc Brown. Slick and likeable, the man most recently seen stealing the show in Ricky Gervais' David Brent: Life On the Road drops some new material on us, and it goes down a bomb. He mixes quasi-philosophical stand-up musings with some dextrous rapping as this nice middle-class boy skillfully deconstructs assumptions regarding race, class and the sexes from every side of the fence, and it's way funnier than that sentence suggests!

Opening with a number about how he loves killing people (metaphorically), Brown brings back the old crowd-pleaser Everybody's Racist; undercuts your average soul man's loverman persona with some heavy-duty realism and muses on his new life of parental responsibility ('of course I resent my kids!'). He concludes with some audience participation - the audience filing in the blanks of a fairly scatalogial little number. Hell, just cos you're smart don't mean it isn't funny acting stoopid once in a while.

Brown has a wealth of material and is a great proponent of the switch-back - when you think he's boasting he undercuts it, just when he seems to be getting preachy, he's a second away from a knob joke. He's a funny bugger and he goes down a storm.

The show ends on a high with the return of everyman hero Badly Drawn Boy. Attaining stardom in the late 1990s, this battered romantic was one of the country's most popular singer-songwriters for the duration of three big-selling albums. While he has kept a lower profile in the last decade, he is in great voice as he turns back the clock with tunes from his three big-selling albums - stellar debut The Hour of Bewilderbeast, smash-hit soundtrack About a Boy and big pop hit Have You Fed the Fish?

Instantly familiar in jeans, woolly hat and beard, Gough needs no accompaniment to have the audience eating out of his hand. Opening with Bewilderbeast's first track The Shining (minus French horn), he switches between guitar and keyboards... when he's not addressing the audience like they're his best mate and this fancy hall is a back table at his local pub, that is. Once Around the Block is a particular highlight, with its Latin rhythms and scatting conjuring up the spirit of David Crosby and Santana circa '70 to these ears..

The sweet melodies of About a Boy songs such as the very lovely Silent Sigh lose none of their charm in this stripped-back piano-and-voice format. Gough really has a way with a tune. Sadly, as with most charity gigs, we have overrun - and all too soon, it is time for this Boy to say goodbye. But not before he's shown us that his voice, and his gift for connecting for an audience, remains very much intact. An inspiring end to a most worthwhile evening...