It is likely that you will know of Sean McGowan if you’re a lover of live music and live in Southampton – he’s everywhere. That being said, this year has been particularly quiet for him, with the cancellation of live gigs globally. Taking up work as a barber, whilst performing some entertaining live-stream sets on Facebook, McGowan was forced to step back from live shows.
However, finally live music is beginning to return to a somewhat familiar capacity. The 1865, a Southampton staple, has opened and is offering a few socially-distanced shows, two of these being delivered by McGowan himself. Playing a matinee and evening show on the same day, McGowan demonstrated why he is so loved in this city.
Opening in the most casual manner ever, considering much of the audience were known to McGowan himself, the show began in an understated fashion. ‘Cuppa Tea’, taken from his debut album Son of the Smith, was the perfect starter to get the crowd excited. Hearing such a catchy song live, after so many months without live music, was goosebump-inducing.
The rest of the setlist was just as catchy, as Sean played some of his best hits, like ‘Neverland’, to a very enthusiastic crowd. It was clear some people found it hard to keep seated, with a couple standing to clap and cheer despite this not being advisable.
All of the songs were brilliant, and all proved McGowan’s talents exceptionally. However, it was his performance of ‘Springhill’ which was most memorable. This is his most emotional song, being the slowest of any he’s ever written and is always incredible to hear live. Its poignancy was extended magnificently, though, with the speech he gave beforehand. ‘Springhill’ was written after the death of his close friend’s mother, and the speech usually centres this. However, this evening McGowan adapted it slightly, focussing his attention on the immense losses which Covid-19 has caused this year. With the exception of a few rowdy annoyances in the crowd, the speech was delivered to quiet, teary-eyed members of the audience, and the song was more powerful than ever.
It wouldn’t be a Christmas Sean McGowan gig without his iconic performance of ‘Fairytale of New York’, where his changing of the controversial lyrics to “Fuck you Boris Johnson” caused big cheers and claps. It was a wonderful, unified feeling, and one which I have missed over the past 8 months.
When considering the socially-distanced aspects of the venue, it could have been better. The security guards were kept busy by individuals walking around without their masks, and a few people table mixing throughout the gig. Luckily, McGowan reinforced the rules, saying that we should not follow them because Boris Johnson and the Tory government tell us to – we should follow the rules because we need to protect the workers in the venue, and the other show-goers. However, as a warning, if you have not yet visited a socially-distanced gig at The 1865 and are feeling apprehensive about it, you might want to think twice about attending and wait until levels of infection are lower. It was about as safe as it could be, but with sold-out tables, rowdier crowds and the amount of people sat in one room without masks, it was easy to feel a little unsettled.