by Martin Ramsbottom
Originally, the Red Hand Files were developed as an online platform of dialogue between Nick and his fan base eager to ask him a cornucopia of questions from the bland to the outright bizarre but, more importantly, getting an answer to these questions. This intimacy had developed as an idea from the Bad Seeds tour in 2017 and germinated in an initial series of Conversations with Nick Cave shows in the US and Ireland, shortly followed by the online medium. Tonight, in the salubrious surroundings of the Bridgewater Hall, the Conversations tour has come to Manchester to delight a sold-out audience with this concept incorporated with music from the Bad Seeds’ back catalogue chosen to fit the dialogue du jour.
In real time, this concept was quite a singular experience of social communion between rank strangers that share one overriding commonality this evening which is a love for the music of Nick Cave and tonight, the added capacity to speak to the man, if so desired. What manifested was an evening of joy, sadness and laughter. Heavy on the roster of questions put to Nick was how to deal with bereavement and sudden loss as many present inevitably charted their own loss in Nick’s well- documented loss of his son. Never did the questions or the answers appear pretentious or contrived and when asked the loftier questions of spirituality and belief Nick remained grounded, charismatic and outright humorous with his responses. Death, loss, love, sex, performance, writer’s-block, literature, education, work, school, holidays, Brighton, Cornwall pubs, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Johnny Cash and going out on the lash with Mark E. Smith were just a number of topics covered and coloured in entertaining anecdotes, asides and addendums. The Manchester audience were hanging on every word and at one point completely divided by Nick suggesting Marc Bolan was a better lyricist and songwriter than David Bowie!
To punctuate this dialogue with the audience, Nick’s piano was foregrounded on stage around an arrangement of tables like an after-dinner speaker. He emphasised his love of Leonard Cohen by performing a quite remarkable cover of Avalanche from Cohen’s 1971 album Songs of Love and Hate; the song, he explained, helped formulate in art what he was feeling as a teenager in a relatable way for the first time. Highlights from his own work included God is in the House; West Country Girl; Papa Won’t Leave You, Henry; and The Weeping Song – all rendered with beautiful and intimate immediacy. He was asked if he was made to erase all his music and keep just one song, what it would be. He chose Brompton Oratory, which he performed immediately to audible silence. To close the evening he took a question about stage fright and spoke eloquently about a routine he has developed recently where he speaks to his son just as he walks out on stage and imagines that they are both walking out in that given moment. This followed a rendition of The Ship Song segueing into Skeleton Tree and as the notes trickled out into nothingness to be replaced by the refrain ‘And it’s alright now,’ the audience rose to ovation. Three hours had elapsed; I could have sat for three hours more.