REVIEW: Chapter & Verse

The best thing about Michael Anthony – alright, Tony – Wright, the former member of And So I Watch You From Afar and current (at the time of writing) artist-in-residence of Belfast’s MAC, is that you can’t pigeonhole him. It is refreshing to come across a musician as diverse and as self-depreciatingly humane as the artist also known as VerseChorusVerse, the Coleraine-born troubadour who has taken twenty years of what he himself calls a “pretty weird life” and written a book about them.

Extracts from said book, along with acoustic performances of some of his finest songs, are here for everyone to hear and see on the Derry-Londonderry leg of his Chapter & Verse(ChorusVerse) tour, which stops at the Waterside Theatre on the night I attend.

 It is admittedly a little trickier for Wright to stoke up the requisite atmosphere away from the unique vibe of the Belfast International Arts Festival, but we and he need not worry - Wright, his material, and the encouragement of those in attendance unite to create their own vibe, a sense of irreplaceable North West home coming that presents itself in our respect for and enjoyment of the performer.

Dressed in jeans and a black T-Shirt, with only his guitar, a traveller’s case, a microphone and a slideshow for company, Wright announces his arrival by looking at the (disappointingly small) audience and commenting on the weirdness of it all. Offering to perform some Britney Spears if we hang around for a bit is a good way of breaking the ice, but Wright goes one better with the “special treat” of reading a passage from a legendarily awful Stephenie Meyer book about sparkling vampires. He’s nicely set the amiability for the scene – both audience and performer are much more relaxed afterwards when the show gets going, as it really must, with a song. 

“The friends that we make are the stones that we lay... the pleasures that we take may push those friends away”, sings Wright, immediately raising the invaluable theme of never losing sight of the ones who love you most in pursuit of ambition. It’s one of many tunes, including the energetic and poignant “Yet To Break” (my personal musical highlight of the evening) that strike a chord of musical consistency amongst the various anecdotes from Wright’s book.

Said consistency is less in tonal nature than in the freshness of the challenge - every song performed is suitably adapted and aligned with the fluctuating moods and differing encounters throughout Wright’s own anecdotes of a pre-Trump USA, recounted for our entertainment and enlightenment. Falsetto, holding on to a note, regretful balladry, rocking out and more are merged with acoustic guitar in a talk and show that’s never anything less than interesting or appealing in its own funny and engaging manner.

To me, Chapter & Verse(ChorusVerse) isn’t just about journeying to “find yourself” and that much craved for sense of belonging. It’s also about learning how to deal with pitfalls not through neurotic, momentary self-pity but the emotional, reflective maturity that comes with experience. And to borrow Wright’s own words, literally, one feels “a sense of elation” at the end of it all.

One leaves the theatre inspired to wistfully and fondly muse about the places they’ve been to, the people who they have met and the parts that both have played in shaping their lives, positively reminding us that we are not alone. In this sense, Wright earns distinction as someone who has gone out of his way to make sure we enjoy his words, pictures and lyrics with the warmth that can only come from genuine and genial kindness. He isn’t just performing to an audience, he is the audience – and that’s why I recommend the show.

Simon Fallaha

Chapter & Verse(ChorusVerse) is available from the artist at his live shows and online. For live shows and to keep up-to-date go to @tonytonitonewright on Instagram, @Toeknee_Wright on Twitter & @versechorusverseVCV on Facebook. Published in TBL 301.

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