John Blek and Jodie Marie, The RAFA Club, St Davids

Another day. Another visit to the RAFA Club in St Davids. Another cracking Boia Gigs show.

A great start to a weekend the highlight of which was watching one of my grandsons dancing out onto the pitch at Parc y Scarlets as the team’s lucky mascot. Lucky because the Scarlets struggled to overcome 13 or 14 plucky Italians. And highlight because yes family ties are strong. They touch the soul in the way music does too.

So no apologies to John Blek and Jodie Marie. Their music touched my soul, even if they didn’t exactly dance into the limelight, they went out there with equal intent. They’ll understand because many of their songs touched on the power and energy generated through familial love.

Indeed, John Blek related an affectionate anecdote about his sprightly 89 year old grandmother who told him “I didn’t come here for a long time, I came here for a good time”.

John’s on stage patter was a delight. His warm, droll, often surreal, shaggy dog tales reminded me of the work of that great Irishman Flann O’Brien. Perhaps it’s no surprise then to discover John hails from Cork City. And no surprise either that, like Flann, John eschews pretentious notions of what constitutes art. Not for nothing did Flann dislike being compared to James Joyce.

Though maybe John’s being a bit disingenuous there, especially for a man who’s taken his stage name from a Banksy inspired French graffiti artist. Even though after he’d introduced one song, ‘Salt In The Water’, with the observation that “the strongest emotions produce the best art” he did remind us, with that ever present twinkle in his eye, that if he was getting too deep, then it’s still “a good craic”.

Ah yes, songs. Did I neglect to tell you that John Blek is a magnificent singer and songwriter? With influences ranging from acoustic so-called Americana (think Townes Van Zandt or Tim Hardin) to traditional British and Irish folk (from the likes of Bert Jansch or Christy Moore) to the more out there edges of edgy alt.rock (Nick Cave and Jeff Tweedy) John is very much his own man. Unique. Idiosyncratic. Heartfelt. Witty. Dealing with universal themes yet sourced very much from deep within his own imagination and soul.

‘Salt InThe Water’ is typical. Ostensibly telling the tale of a drunken night with a lonely Dutchman, on board a cargo ship about to ferry rubbish from Cork to Holland, it deals with a person’s search for self-acceptance through uncertainty and the whole absurdity of human existence. In a stroke of genius, in the middle of the song, John stopped singing and continued playing amazing guitar whilst a recording he’d made of the Dutchman on that fateful night was replayed.

A couple of hours passed all too quickly in the company of this engaging artist. The lyricism of his songs enhanced by his impassioned yet relaxed vocal style and dynamic finger-picking on acoustic guitar (his only accompaniment, except for one song on which he used a Shruti box – a sort of one chord Mellotron). He is not to be underestimated as a guitarist.

John’s set ended with a magnificent rendition of the Merle Travis song (made famous by Johnny Cash) ‘Dark As A Dungeon’ on which he was joined by Jodie Marie.

Pembrokeshire’s Jodie Marie had played the opening slot and, as usual with her solo shows, she delivered a beautiful, mellow set of her captivating songs plus one cover – that there Tim Hardin again. Hearing Jodie’s voice is like being warmed in a happy cocoon. She even managed to silence the talkers at the table behind me.

Talking of cocoons, John’s set had begun with ‘Lace’, a song he told us during his first amusing piece of patter, which had been used by Irish TV as the soundtrack to a film about lace-makers. He then proceeded to sing a song of almost ineffable beauty, his smooth honeyed tones enunciating a bittersweet tale for which lace was the metaphor and the chorus was “she said I was, she said I was good for nothing”.

How wrong she was.

Boia Gigs next shows at the RAFA Club are Tennessee resident Nathan Bell on Friday 12 October, who has been described by Acoustic Guitar Magazine as “coupling the grain of Levon Helm with the gruff troubadour lilt of Kris Kristofferson”, and Canadian Bluegrass band the Slocan Ramblers on Saturday 3rd November.

These gigs are always enhanced by the sound achieved by Owain Fleetwood Jenkins of StudiOwz. The performers never fail to remark favourably about it.

BB Skone.