It’s Monday night in the Bothy at Hoots and there’s a singer songwriter who looks like a very tall TV actor waiting to take the stage.
Iain McLaughlin with no Outsiders and only an acoustic guitar for company has just brought a set of brutally stripped-back versions of some of his strongest songs to a close – Someone For Everyone ended with some strangled cries like a beast in pain – or a man supremely confident in his own dramatic songwriting getting to the heart of the matter.
Seeing LAURENCE FOX’s foot beating in time to Iain’s music, you recall he revealed before settling down that he’d lost his crucial notebook with song and set notes – his script, you might think.
So he’d decided to cope with it by performing the songs backwards, last to first.
You find yourself wondering as he gets ready to play whether performing in front of a TV cast and crew who will transform your every move into film for millions to see is scarier than this.
Just feet away from his audience, in a room quiet enough to hear a pin drop or a camera lens whirr, Laurence begins his first, sorry, last song – and Mostly Water is a belter.
Instantly it settles down the audience taking in the words, the husky voice, the guitar, the melody and a way of looking at things that makes the song a world of its own.
"You’re mostly water, science has told me so," he sings after starting a song with a verse where he describes hoping to look in on his kids before they’re asleep – "As I open the door/I see you’ve drifted away".
But like the later Blinded By The Light, there’s a dad’s preoccupation with advice to give about living your life.
"That song was about my children – cheery isn’t it?" he explained at the end, making the small audience laugh.
But we’re in, we’re sucked in and waiting for the next one. Gunfight is an older song you can find on YouTube, written in 2011 but updated for his new EP Sorry For My Words and that’s the phrase you carry away from the song that has two people "at war".
There’s a huskiness to his voice (which is quite deep), though it fears nothing, soaring to a high, almost falsetto breaking-point in a couple of songs that just add to the emotion and a brave sense of vulnerability.
But you still find yourself wondering whether the husky quality is the result of performing every night for the last three out of four – or just a natural feature. But it grows on you and in Shelter, "about a friend of mine" it’s just one of the many elements that click into place to make a perfect song.
The story it tells sucks you in: "You took a life just to be with her, it’s a shame that the life was your own".
But just as you’ve decided whose side you’re on in this drama, the lyrics switch back: "You leave her no shelter, no-one to save her from the storm, but it’s so hard building a house in the dark".
The melody then goes somewhere new too, a change of chord to a major key as you get to "Home, go home" – and you want to be there too.
Next song So Be Damned sees Laurence add power to his voice, taking it full throttle – though there’s slightly niggly intonation – but there’s less time spent looking down. Maybe he’s feeling more relaxed. The audience is waiting till the very last note of each song dies away before applauding. It’s a nice, sensitive touch for someone who – if they are nervous – are giving little of it away.
New song Blinded By The Light, Laurence tells us, was inspired when: "I read something Richard Dawkins wrote and it started to piss me off a bit."
But it rattles along, maybe on fury, but there’s another line that jumps at you "I must raise you to dream the meaning of your life," doing his best, possibly, to life-proof his children for fulfillment.
A fickle lover seemed to be behind the jaunty-sounding Figure You Out "As my bags are packed you say you want me back".
Go Hard Or Go Hungry sounds like a sonic pep talk and Holding Pattern – and the one that follows – sound like love songs.
The final song is dedicated to Laurence’s friend Josh. That’s all he’s saying, but it goes "you rule my world" but that "I know I’m Rome, but I can’t change".
Rome wasn’t built in a day. But years of learning the craft of music and polishing a natural talent can pay off, this Monday night set said.
Ten songs and we’re done. No encores to extend the job – a thoughful night of soul-searching, intriguing storytelling, epic tunes in a mellow malt of a voice.
It’s a great audition. The actor’s nailed the singer songwriter role.
And he didn’t even have his script.