“Paint the Earth on me,” Nick Mulvey bellows out to a chamber of enchanted Glaswegians as he marks his second gig in the city. He’s singing about a group of three anti-fracking protesters; Simon Blevins, Richard Roberts and Rich Loizo, who were all given prison sentences for the disruption of a Cuadrilla drilling site in Lancashire. “This song, and indeed tonight, is dedicated to those three men sitting in their cells tonight. Thank you.”
It’s a startling introduction to his set; a one-man, two-hour show with no supporting act. We’re sat down for the duration, and it’s recognised by both the performer and his audience that his material would resonate more in a smaller space. Beautifully decorated it may be, Glasgow’s Old Fruitmarket is a lofty space designed to carry airy, ethereal music. Nick Mulvey has a message to convey. Articulate it he does, despite acknowledging that in the venue some of its gravitas might be lost in translation.
Those who know of Mulvey will be conscious of his political songwriting. The second song in his setlist for the evening, Myela, was written in conjunction with the charity Help Refugees UK. It recalls the plights of refugees making their way to Calais, the lyrics formed of their very own words. He’s incredibly self-aware in his performance, shunning the stereotype of acoustic guitarists’ tendencies to adopt a manner of affected, gimmicky virtue-signalling. There’s none of that on display here. Regardless of how many times Mulvey has performed the song already, tangible in the air are his feelings of anger, frustration and injustice.
His guitar sounds glorious, its power and deep tone reverberating from one end of the hall to the other. Mulvey works alone on stage but capitalises on the vocals of those who came to see him. “It’s funny that you’re here to watch me sing, yet here I am watching you”, he laughs, as we all do our best to recreate his hypnotic chants serving as the backdrop to songs like ‘Unconditional’ and ‘Fever to the Form’.
First Mind, his 2014 debut album, was Mercury Prize-nominated and features some of his best known music, but the temptation to rely on this material didn’t bait him. An attribute which sets Mulvey apart from his singer-songwriter peers lies in his ability to tell a story which sounds genuinely believable and is echoed throughout the song itself. Imogen is a wonderful example of this; after recalling three days spent in a Cornwall beach cabin perched precariously on the edge of a cliff-face during the eponymous storm as it battered the coast, we’re treated to a growling, ferocious vocal performance. Emotions, he tells us, were high that night as he had just been sent a photograph from his wife of his unborn son’s baby scan.
Throughout his 2017, LP Wake Up Now, he makes numerous references to the ways in which becoming a father has impacted his life, and these thematic threads are woven into his performance too. Remembering is a fond, sentimental tribute to his own father, a rose tinted musical hug which bounces around the audience to triumphant success. There’s a great understanding of the impact of dynamics throughout the evening; bright effervescence is set boldly against melancholy reflection. It’s utterly captivating to watch.
What Mulvey reiterates towards the end of his time on stage, is that it’s not just captivating to watch, but captivating to be a part of. His generosity with memories and experiences, and the reciprocal, interactive nature of his performance enables the audience to craft, in a remarkably short period of time, a genuine bond with him. Back on stage for his encore, he plays through In Your Hands. Watching him give himself up to the lights and the noise, the lingering memory of the evening is the sight of a kind, contemplative man who feels a deep connection to his calling; telling stories through song.
By Maisie McGregor