Who the hell is he?
When the lights come down before your first Philip Jeays gig, you cannot know what to expect. A friend has told you that you have to come but hasn't been able to say quite why. "A Jacques Brel for the 90's", say the leaflets. Well yes, and all very well, if you know of the Belgian chansonnier with the shining eyes and break-your-heart lyrics, if you haven't been put off by second-rate interpreters; a man at my table had seen Brel in 1964 and reckoned Jeays was his equal in "intensity of performance".
But that doesn't quite capture it. Brel's Gallic melodrama can seem overblown to the cynical British mind; but Jeays is doing something that is oh so English. Then again it will never be Britpop. When, in the opening number,The Man from Delmonte, Jeays casts a withering look at contemporaries who "go straight to number one, miming to a song they've never even sung", you can't help loving the dismissive arrogance of his persona. If Withnail was a singer-songwriter, this is how he would sing.
The evening is not all biting wit, though. With his two piece band, Jeays also leads us into the deepest of emotional waters. The melancholic magic of 'The Last Dance' comes as a surprise after the sharper numbers, but it works its spell well. And, at the heart of the set, the operatic splendour of Only This High never fails to sweep the audience into its tumbling reverie: a rich poetic tapestry of childhood, with memories of a first kiss, of adult sorrows seen from a child's viewpoint, of committing your first simple sins "that Jesus forgave every Sunday at ten / so that by twelve o'clock you could do them again." And the voice, oh the voice of the man, as he stands in the spotlight gesturing boldly; he could have held a crowd of thousands, yet you felt you alone were privy to his inmost emotions.
They kick back into high gear with Idiots In Uniformand my personal favourite Madame, about the posings of a society culture vulture:
When she says, "Oh, how I love the Dutch,"
I say, "Madame, these are not the Dutch as such,
But more south and west of the continent,"
She says, "I know. That's what I meant."
And so they take us through an hour of supercilious highs and deep romantic lows. William George Q provides the framework with his guitar, alternately spikey and harmonious; his fretless bass on the slower numbers adds a gorgeous warmth. On the piano, David Harrod gives body to the songs with orchestral countermelodies and dramatic syncopations, at home both with the symphonic opening of Oh To Be A God and the rolling Tom Waitsy blues of Richenda. As tight a trio as you could wish to see, their pleasure in performing and commitment to the songs were infectious.
So, as his fliers ask; who the hell is Philip Jeays? And how can I describe his show? It's not pop, but it's very accessible; it's not songs from the shows, but you'll go away humming the tunes; it's not cabaret, but it gets you tapping your feet, laughing your head off, and drowning your sorrows. As he closed the show, with a couple of numbers about drinking and falling in love (or not), Jeays seemed unprepared for the rapturous applause that greeted him. He'd better get prepared, because it seemed quite clear to me there's going to be a lot more of it coming his way.'
"Alternately casting himself as romantic fool, sneering devil and irony-streaked sinner, Jeays produces a neat, hour-long set mixing wisdom and sarcasm, self-reflection and self-dramatisation." - The Scotsman
"Jeays covers the whole waterfront quite delightfully, looking more than a little like the David Bowie of 30 years ago and fixing his gaze above our heads in a transport of emotion. One of the less widely know gems of the fringe." - Ian Shuttleworth, FT
" ... a fresh, fearless young singer, songwriter and performer whose artistic potential is scary." - Rob Adams, The Herald