Throughout the rest of the year, we will be releasing a series of ‘2018 Retrospective’ reviews, under the guise of looking back over 2018 and picking our favourite musical releases, but in reality, it’s because we’ve had most of the year off and don’t want to admit we’re late getting these reviews done.
To start the series, we bring you an album from one of our absolute favourites.
The darling of the Mancunian music scene, with a wit as sharp as his jawline, Chris Tavener has been captivating audiences with his charming performances for a fair while now, and the chances are you’ve crossed his path at a gig or festival somewhere in the last 12 months.
Playing hundreds of gigs per year, Chris is one of the hardest working musicians you’re likely to find, which must make it difficult to find the time to head into the studio and record albums.
Never one to be beaten, Chris combined the two, recording a live album across two sold out gigs at Manchester’s Three Minute Theatre.
Is He Joking (Live) is a celebration of everything that makes Chris such an incredible performer, a born storyteller, with a songwriting talent that is opening doors (check Chris’ social media pages for more on that) and a skilful guitar style that’s easy to miss while you’re distracted by his lyrical mastery.
There are DVDs of the performance available, and if you can, you should, because the intimate setting of the gig is brought to life beautifully, but even if you are listening to the recordings of the gig, you will still feel immersed in the experience.
As much a theatre show as a concert, songs are interspersed with recordings that relay Chris’ ‘real’ feelings to the audience while Chris gives you all the best performer clichés, which have an added subtext with the extra audio.
As entertaining as this is, however, it’s the songs you’ll remember, because nobody constructs a song like Chris does.
Whether he’s exploring the assumed selfish nature of millennials in Postcard Home (“all that we’ve ever wanted, is all that we’ve ever wanted”), heartbreak in She Was My Love, (“if you see her, will you tell her, to go fuck herself”) or first world problems in The Crisis In Northwich (the buses all finish at 6, apparently) Chris wraps his mind, and his words around a topic in a way that is simultaneously unique and familiar.
Bringing the show to a close (before the encore at least) is The Funny Side, moving from irreverent humour, to a more personal and reflective tone as Chris explores his own insecurities, while maintaining a sense of humour throughout, which in itself makes the song more powerful, I have no shame in admitting I cried a little the first time I heard this track (which I am using as a secondary excuse as to why this review took so long).
While many musicians who write punchline heavy songs can grow stale quickly, there is far more than comedy to Chris’ work, meaning that you can listen to his songs again and again without the shine ever wearing off.
If you’ve never seen Chris perform, get hold of this album, and check out what you’ve been missing, and if you have, get hold of this album and remind yourself of the inimitable skill of this utterly delightful human.