There’s a strange kind of chemistry in the air as Martin Rossiter takes to the stage at Clwb – one of those unquantifiably beautiful moments when all the stars align to shine as brightly as the super moon lighting up the night sky outside.
Whether it’s because it’s the final show of the musician’s whistlestop four date UK tour and there’s a celebratory sense of occasion at play, or maybe it’s just that Cardiff, the city of his birth, means so much to him.
Whatever it is, it makes for compulsive viewing.
From 1991 to 2004, the Welshman – born at St David’s Hospital – was the singer of Gene – a group who, though often misleadingly described as a Britpop band, did not fit the all-pervading boorish and nationalistic mould, but illuminated the 1990s with a canon of thoroughly ornate songs.
They disbanded in 2004, having accumulated 10 top 40 hits, more than a million record sales and a devoted international fanbase.
As frontman of an outfit for whom the human spirit was always their critical yardstick, Rossiter’s songs were endlessly elegant and immaculately eloquent. He always possessed a voice that was gossamer light and emotionally heavy.
After more than eight years away from music, he’s returned with his first solo album –The Defenestration Of St Martin, a stunning collection of confessional and autobiographical torch songs accompanied by a solitary piano.
On stage the set up is the same. Pianist Robin Coward provides the plaintive keys – laid as bare as the stark lyrical content.
Three Points On A Compass sets the heart-rending tone – a 10 minute open wound that documents Rossiter’s painful relationship with his father. As he sings the words – ‘you broke our home and I will never forget, all of the things you did’ it veers so close to feeling like an intrusion on private grief such is the raw nerve touched that you can hardly bear to look on.
Through a set that that mines truth at every turn there’s honesty, melancholy, humour and a lyrical incisiveness that elevates him above his peers and keeps us enraptured throughout. The high camp of I Must Be Jesus speaks of his childhood pain and his junior messiah complex, Drop Anchor speaks of a yearning heart, while Where There Are Pixels is bittersweet melodrama, giving full reign to the depth and range of his wonderful voice.
Amongst the hushed reveries there’s light relief, the intimate surrounds providing plenty of exchanges between singer and crowd; most humorously when he informs us that he was born in the capital, a 11lb baby born to a 4ft 11ins mum, or when he fails to remember the last time he played Cardiff and has to be reminded by a fan.
There’s also a fair thumbing through his back pages to keep fans of his former band sated as he serves up stripped back nostalgia courtesy of Gene standards London Can You Wait, Sleep Well Tonight, Speak To Me Someone and a stirring rendition of Olympian.
As he delivers the song’s closing line of ‘I wanted to be there with you, I’ve given my all for you’, nobody could possibly disagree with that sentiment.
Welcome home Martin. It’s good to have you back.