There’s a crop of Nashville artists whose commitment to the UK has flown under-the-radar over the last few years, steadily building a stronger fan base with each tour without any major backing. One of those artists is Will Hoge, a big favourite of ours, who has returned year after year, whether it be with a band or acoustically, with a real determination to sustain something here. He’s been able to secure a few European festival slots this month, so he added a few full-band UK shows to keep him busy, and judging by the turn-out at Manchester’s Night & Day Café, he’s got a loyal bunch of followers now that keep on showing up. Great to see, and richly deserved.
We’ve had the pleasure of seeing Will on a number of occasions, both solo and with a band. You get two completely different shows; Will usually cranks up the energy with his rockier numbers in the full band shows and it’s a much more in-your-face kind of show. At the Night & Day, he kicked off the set with ‘Better Off Now That You’re Gone’, which some of you eagle-eyed Lady Antebellum fans out there might be familiar with, followed by the immensely energetic ‘Too Old To Die Young’. Will treats every show as if it’s his last, throwing every last ounce of passion into his performance; the stage presence he possesses is incredible.
It was great to hear a few songs from his ‘Small Town Dreams’ album from back in 2015 (his best album in my opinion – well worth checking out if you haven’t already), including the brilliant ‘Growing Up Around Here’ and ‘Desperate Times’. Will has such a strong, eclectic back catalogue now, that the show takes lots of twists and turns from the really heavy stuff to the very vulnerable, acoustic moments. His performance of ‘Through Missing You’ was a massive stand-out; there’s a subtlety and delicacy about that song that stuns me every time I hear it. It showcases Will’s raw vocal ability and outstanding song writing prowess like no other. A rendition of ‘Goodnight / Goodbye’ from Will’s ‘Number Seven’ album was a highlight too; capturing the audience’s attention and bringing the room to absolute silence.
One element you’re always guaranteed with any Will Hoge show is the dry humour that makes him so entertaining to listen to. It sounded like he hadn’t had the most fortunate of tours so far, having broken guitar strings for 2 nights running, having never broken one during a show before! It must be some sort of UK curse! I loved his performance of ‘Jesus Came To Tennessee’ too, which was requested by a fan – a great tongue-in-cheek, playful song that epitomises the fun but also political sides of Will’s mindset to a tee.
‘Even If It Breaks Your Heart’ is a song that he’ll be performing every night for the rest of his life, I’m sure, but if he always gets the kind of reaction he got at the Night & Day, it will never become tiresome. It’s become such an anthem, and his adoring Manchester fans sang loud and clear – it really was a great atmosphere in there. Let’s hope there’ll be a few more songs like that in the near future that can raise awareness of Will’s talent on a wider scale.
For an encore, being the maverick that he is, Will decided to jump up on the bar for a raw, mic-less performance of ‘When I Get My Wings’. You have to be such a confident, self-assured vocalist to pull something like that off, and Will did it with such ease. This was followed by the fan favourite ‘Middle Of America’ which got everyone singing along again and left us all wanting more.
We need Will’s following to keep growing – it’s come on leaps and bounds in recent years, but we need a guy of his ability to be playing in bigger venues than the Night & Day. For now, it’s a joy to witness these intimate shows and we look forward to his next overseas adventure.