Ben Ottewell @ St. Michael’s Church, Liverpool, 11.11.21

Gomez co-frontman on dazzling solo form live in South Liverpool

Nov 14th, 2021 at St. Michael’s Church, Liverpool / By Richard Lewis
Ben Ottewell The polar opposite of a sticky-floored city centre venue, the opulent iron framed structure St. Michael’s Church is pressed into service for tonight’s gig. A place with musical provenance it turns out as sozzled Liverpudlian jazz legend / polymath George Melly hailed from the parish.

Framed by the incredible backdrop of the stained-glass window, Ben Ottewell makes a low-key arrival onto the low stage. While the singer’s introductory “Hello’s” might not be the most dynamic stage entrance, silence descends as How We Operate, the title track of 2006 Gomez LP kicks off the set, the singer’s stentorian vocals in full effect.

An emigre to Southport not far up the coast in his teens, the connection the Gomez co-frontman has to Liverpool is an especially strong one. The band’s 1998 debut Mercury Prize winning debut LP Bring It On and its similarly acclaimed follow up Liquid Skin were tracked at the city's storied Parr St. Studios.

One of the most memorably titled songs of the decade Love Is Better Than a Warm Trombone (inspired by White Album nugget Happiness Is A Warm Gun?) winds the clock right back to Gomez’s earliest manoeuvres. Free to Run meanwhile is even older, the singer recalling “Gomez already had these songs like Whipping Piccadilly and Get Myself Arrested, so I thought I’d contribute something”.

Self-deprecatingly flagged up as “25 years later, I’ve still no idea what this song is about”, a superb rendition of Here Comes the Breeze showcases Ottewell is no slouch on the guitar, the principal elements of voice and six string acoustic sounding huge amidst the vaulted ceiling.

Scanning his three solo LPs, the title tracks of each, Shapes And Shadows, Rattlebag and most recent A Man Apart are essayed, along with new track Blue Cats, inspired by Norse mythology. A mention of heading over to LA to work with Gomez for their first LP since 2011 prompts a cheers prior to well-received new song Rose.

Making the most of the spot-on acoustics, the singer orchestrates a call and response chorus to Bring It On, stepping back from the mic to belt out his vocals a capella. Following a standing ovation, with the entire congregation rising from the pews, Ottewell dispenses with the pretence of disappearing offstage prior to the encore, instead launching straight into it.

A tender rendition of Bill Withers’ classic Ain’t No Sunshine is beautifully played, while Tijuana Lady aired last is a perfect example of how songs mature over time. Almost a quarter of a century since its appearance on disc, the track feels less like a tale of chasing the titular figure across Mexico than a lament for lost youth, the song and the set concluding to huge applause.