Stretch Goes To Church

14 April 2018, Tom McDonald Room, Church Road Winery, Taradale
By Jess Soutar Barron

“I feel I should talk more but I don’t want to ruin the reverence.” Stretch

As we left tonight – still humming, still buzzing – people told each other how good this gig had been, how special, how tight and disciplined, how there hadn’t been such a well-polished, slick concert in such a long time. Like finishing off a long-kept vintage red, like wrapping arms around an old friend, like wearing velvet, this night had been weighty with symbolism, deeply satisfying, a breath of fresh but heavy with nostalgia.

My moment came when I watched Stretch tonight – centre stage with this swarm of magnificence around him like a magician conjuring fantasies – and saw him as he once was: a one-man-band, but now summoning up these fellow music makers to make real his imaginings. Four musicians surround him and make all this tremendous sound, between four maybe a dozen layers. It is as if Stretch has dreamed up and brought to life each element of his musical self: the resonance of the double bass, the popping and slurring of the cello, the pluck and pick of the banjo, the boom bash clang brrrrp of the drum and cymbal. In the end he throws it in and leaves them to it. The fantasy has taken over.

I wish this concert had been dubbed Stretch – Special Reserve. It has that quality. Yes, the space is perfect (the barrel lined, heavy beamed winery vault). But it’s also a gig that’s singular, superior, saved for best, to share with your dearest. The title chosen – Stretch Goes To Church – hints at the recent and frequent summer church tours favoured by travelling troubadours, but this is something else. From song choice, to arrangement, to tech, tonight has been terrific. For the people in the room it will be one of those “Remember when…” stories.

From the beginning he calls us his dearly beloved, and we know it’s true. Stretch has a close and loyal following. He’s extremely personable and humble (which can veer towards apologetic – something I hope he gives up soon). He starts tonight alone on a stage dipped in claret, silk drops flooded in red light. Even alone his songs reverberate with multi-layers and facets. Then he introduces his band, musician by musician come in and join the throng, song by song, until six songs in we have the full offering. Paula Sugden on cello, Matiu Whiting on double bass, Joe Dobson on drums and Paul Magarity on banjo.

At points I feel Stretch’s enthusiasm for his band over-awes him as a performer and he races to conclusion. I’m thrilled when he calms down, slows down, enjoys the moments as much as we all are. The space is so welcoming of his voice, the lyrics so clear that it is a blessed relief when he eases up on the pace and we can all lean into the warmth of the offering. He’s nervous at first, he’s giddy with the excitement of it all, but once he’s settled into the embrace of the full band, he finds his groove and we can all relax.

Something that develops too, in the heart of the concert is this smooth meandering from classical introductions to the song proper. Sugden belts out Bach which slides into 6 Tears as if they were born of the same mother. Depeche Mode’s Personal Jesus becomes Less Rock More Roll.

Stretch has gigged alone, Stretch has brought in a full band to play the HBAF’s SpiegelTent, Stretch has summoned his classical self tonight. What next for Stretch? I hope a hoe-down in a town hall, I’m up for dancing.

Each musician on stage tonight deserves the spot light. It is a testament to Stretch’s generosity that he’s more than willing to share, he gives it over to them, he enjoys just being there, in admiration of them. Paula Sugden brings her cello to life; Joe Dobson minimises and expands his paradiddles to invoke in us a spectrum of emotion from tears to giggling. At one point this soundscape rolls over us til we’re stomping and clapping in response and even this one tiny moment of feedback seems perfect, and there’s dancing in the standing-room-only section. Then a breath – anticipation – and the line “Less church and a little more soul”, which is beyond perfect.

The encore is Neil Young and Johnny Cash on the uke and harmonica and we realise we’re back where we started, where Stretch started, just a one-man-band who makes magic happen.

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