Will Varley & Seán McGowan

O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire
February 2, 2018
“Nice gaff you got here. Shane MacGowan is not my Dad.”

After that helpful introduction, Seán McGowan launched into spoken word track Gag Part I at full volume. Quite a display of confidence in a huge room not as packed with word-perfect fans as he’s used to in the city’s rock pubs and dive bars.

Anyone not familiar with the closeness between Xtra Mile Recordings artists soon found out: “I’m here for my friend, to support my mate. We’re all family.” Never a truer word said, and that extends to the label’s staff and fans.

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McGowan admitted that his interest wasn’t entirely altruistic, saying that he’d texted Varley 4 times a day for 4 months to lobby for the support slot!  Persistence paid off, which could be the motto of McGowan’s burgeoning career.

The crowd also soon got to know McGowan’s cheeky smile, dirty laugh and expletive filled banter: “the set is gonna get happier but not fucking yet!” He was clearly relieved to see his mental health and prospects brightening: “My personal life really fell through. It’s alright now!”

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McGowan must be applauded for his honesty on such a vast and public stage, especially when describing his Nan and her increasing forgetfulness. She’d called him which had set alarm bells ringing at once; that usually meant “something’s wrong or you fucked up.” It turned out she was calling to complain that “your fecking uncle won’t let me leave the house” to see Sean’s show. He’d had to explain to her that he was playing in Hamburg that night: “I’m not sure your bus pass would allow you to cross borders” from Acton. It was impossible to miss the concern, frustration, black humour and love he felt: “if she could she’d be here for me.”

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On a happier note, he was excited to announce his debut album, recorded with fellow Xtra Mile artist Sam Duckworth of Get Cape. Wear Cape Fly. and Recreations. That thrilled the front row who’d been bellowing along to his songs like Neverland and Costa Del Solution  all night. On this evidence,  lot more people will be embracing McGowan’s rebellious energy cut with the honesty of his and bittersweet songs like Patchwork.

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Sean McGowan’s debut album, Son Of The Smith, is out now and well worth your time! His latest single, Romance Ain’t Dead, is out now. 

Ida Mae were even less familiar with the crowd. One person took a look at them and exclaimed “it’s like Hanson killed the ugly one!” Another asked when Kurt Cobain and Jennifer Aniston formed a band.

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Appearances aside, the music had a rattlesnake edge, deliberate and confident in songs like If You Don’t Love Me. Vocally, there were shades of Stevie Nicks and Bon Jovi.

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“If you’re here on my guestlist and you’re here to talk, you can fuck off. People paid to be here
There was no doubting who the fans were here to see and it was gratifying to hear that he had their back too. Other than the hum of chatter which he shut down, Varley held the room with Dylan impressions and insights into the hard work that got him to this milestone of headlining at such a historic venue. He explained that he had just released his 25th album (although some were “put out on my mum’s computer and sold 3 copies!”)

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If this career highlight wasn’t enough, he had an announcement for the packed crowd of friends and fans; “I got married. My wife is pregnant.” This lead to  an heartfelt and rapturous round of applause at the “you got a baby” part of King For A King.

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As if “building a baby” wasn’t enough, Varley’s back catalogue and more recent stunners from Varley’s latest album Spirit of Minnie, thrilled the crowd. It was clear just how much of a following he’d earned over the years that the simple phrase “cats or emails?” meant everything to everyone. The choice was made and everyone roared “I got this email” as one.

That’s the thing with Varley. His delicate songs like Spirit of Minnie and All Those Stars are tender and heartbreaking in all the right ways and he truly excels at crowd participation pieces, getting everyone chanting along to As For My Soul, Seize The Night and We Don’t Believe You well into the night, long after the music ended.

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Nine months down the road – Varley has a daughter, a live album of that amazing night at Shepherd’s Bush Empire, and a new tour. Don’t miss him if you get the chance!

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