Will Hoge is an artist who has certainly gone under the radar for far too long now. Highly respected as a song-writer back in Nashville, Will has written songs recorded by a number of ‘big’ artists, including ‘Even If It Breaks Your Heart’ (recorded by Eli Young Band) and ‘Better Off Now That You’re Gone’ (recorded by Lady Antebellum). Despite his undoubted talent, Will’s solo career has never really hit the level he deserves.
Which brings us to St Pancras Old Church on 3rd March. We have certainly never seen a country gig in a church before, and we may never see one again! In what can only be described as a truly stunning, wonderfully intimate venue, we witnessed a show which will live very long in the memory. The acoustics were incredible, and the stage was lit solely with two table lamps which contributed to a beautiful setting (despite being an absolute pain for our camera, but we’ll live with that!).
Not to mention the incredible vocals of Will himself. He performed the whole show totally by himself, and it really exposed the sheer talent the man possesses. With no backing at all, we could hear that raw, raspy voice loud and clear, and he just makes it look so effortless. It takes an awful lot of nerve and a lot of confidence in your craft to do something like that, and Will has that in abundance.
Last time we saw Will was at The Stables in Milton Keynes with a full band. As impressive as that was, this show was on another level. Will took a number of fan favourites, such as ‘Middle Of America’, ‘Fool’s Gonna Fly’ and ‘Better Off Now That You’re Gone’, and transformed them into stripped-back, very raw pieces of art, taking us right back to the song-writing stage of these songs.
A particular highlight was ‘Through Missing You’, a song based on the Ed Tarkington novel ‘Only Love Can Break Your Heart’. It draws you in right from the very first note. The song has a very haunting aura about it, and Will’s stunning guitar-playing ability takes it up another notch from the studio recording. The echo of the church also added something truly gorgeous; it was mesmerising stuff.
Of course, we were treated to setlist stalwarts such as ‘Even If It Breaks Your Heart’ and ‘Still Got You On My Mind’, but also some album tracks from years gone by. The humorous ‘Jesus Came To Tennessee’ was wonderfully ironic in a church! During his encore, he also took some requests from the crowd, performing ‘Too Old To Die Young’…..”as most of us are!” cried the audience member! This was preceded by ‘Strong’, a track which bought Will some exposure back in the US on a well-known truck commercial.
We must also mention Will’s fantastic personality, both on and off stage. When you see Will, it’s 80% music and 20% comedy; his hilarious stories about his Valencia and Madrid shows! “Madrid and Valencia are in Spain, for those that are geographically challenged. Actually, I’m the only American here so I’m probably the only person geographically challenged!” He’s so comfortable on stage and makes everybody in the audience feel right at home; a kind of connection that you don’t see at many shows. Not to mention the time Will spends after each and every show, signing merchandise and having photos. He loves the fans, and judging by the reaction, his fans certainly love him.
He received a standing ovation from the crowd at the end of the show. No surprise after a 90-minute musical masterclass. If you aren’t familiar with Will’s repertoire, you really are missing out. If there is an artist on the planet that epitomises the faults of country radio in the US, Will Hoge is the man. As most of the London audience would probably agree, it was an honour to see Will in such a tiny venue. On one hand it’s rather sad that he isn’t playing larger venues, but on the other hand, a venue like St Pancras Old Church really allows Will to shine to the best of his ability. When he comes back, make sure you check him out.