SWG3 reclines just at the end of a railway bridge, and the evening breeze exhales lightly off the Clyde and into the the dark of its back room. It’s the hottest day of the year, but the atmosphere within is cool and calm, stirred only lightly by hushed chatter and the whispering flow of lager into pint glasses. There is a certain ease to the crowd which perfectly reflects the intimacy of the night to come, as Rhys Lewis and Declan J. Donovan draw their three-week European tour to a close in one of Glasgow’s West End venues.
First to grace the stage is Declan J. Donovan, an Essex-born songwriter and singer. Already, the personal nature and intimacy of his music is no secret. His demo Fallen So Young is a best man’s speech written to music, which he originally performed for his brother’s wedding. He has attributed the inspiration to write his most recent single, The Human Way, to the change of perspective which followed the birth of his nephew. The honesty of his song-writing merges the relationship between performer and audience to almost that of a confession and his confidante; a dynamic enhanced by the spell-bound silence which he casts upon the crowd. It may not be the reaction usually expected form Glaswegian gig-goers, but the mellow crowd makes the perfect companion to the honesty of his set.
The evening’s head-line act is Rhys Lewis. Another performer of the singer-songwriter variety but no doppelganger of his predecessor on the stage – often the danger for the stereotyped “man-with-acoustic-guitar”. His soul-filled stage presence seamlessly moves the vibe from the intimate front-room gig of Donovan to a down-town broken-hearted Blues bar. Indeed, the personal nature of his music is no less intimate, but here the topic is one-track, as he wrenches out the difficulties of heartbreak though the tracks of his EP Bad Timing, released in February. Accompanying his guitar with only a set of keys, a stripped back version of the band he toured with, but perfectly suited to the low-key setting, Lewis’ voice took centre stage, and resonated nearly as loudly as his lyrics. Highlights of his set included the minimalistic Reasons to Hate You and the border-line ballad of his 2017 single Be Your Man.
The world of the acoustic song-writer can often seem to be a game of “Heads you lose, Tails I win” where artists struggle between the potential obscurity of the poet, and the cheesy desperation of your dad’s cover band. But both Monday night’s acts brought out the best that such a genre has to offer, where raw talent and careful artistry work to create a genuine relationship between the performer, his music and its audience. Truly, listening to both Donovan and Lewis feels very much like getting to know them. And if that is the case, then one might wonder if a second date beside the Clyde might bring us a little closer to falling in love.
Review Written by Mary Sheard