The preacher man meets his public. They say they laaahve him, of course
It’s 11.15pm and The Reverend – aka 25-year-old Jon McClure – is sat on the concrete steps outside the University Of East Anglia’s Drama Studio, singing and strumming an acoustic guitar. All around him people gather to listen to each song the Sheffieldian cult hero plays. He winds one song up and asks the brethren, “Do you like that one?” The crowd roars its approval. “You’re a hero!” pipes up one lad. “Aw, thanks pal,” blushes The Rev, passing his spliff and guitar on. He then spends an hour signing autographs, having his photo taken, rolling spliffs for people, telling unheard Arctic Monkeys anecdotes and waxing lyrical about Palestinian cultural philosopher Edward Saïd’s concept of Orientalism. When the crowd disperses, around 1am, not one person exits without a smile across their face. Yet the biggest smile on display belongs to The Reverend himself.
It’s justified, too; two hours earlier, when he and his six-piece band take to the stage at this sold-out uni show, he’s greeted by the kind of love and respect normally reserved for out-of-retirement boxers. He opens with album title-tune ‘State Of Things’ – his band coming on like The Stone Roses striving to replicate the sound of Booker T & The MGs – and from the off, like lower league football fans celebrating a giant-killing cup triumph, people are really into it. It’s at these moments where wry critical evaluation goes askew.
Sure, McClure looks like a smudged, elongated watercolour painting of Richard Ashcroft. Yeah, there are moments in his repertoire that lack the class and finesse of the music he holds dear (the Roses, Oasis, Verve). And while any musician who critiques and condemns the war in Iraq is to be commended, it’d be a genuinely momentous moment if someone could go the extra mile and say, “…and here’s what you can do about it”. But, as the band grooves into the thrift-shop funk of ‘Bandits’ and two men in Fred Perry shirts with guts the size of Antarctica embrace with the passion of Romeo and Juliet… well, all of the above matters shit-all.
It’s McClure’s sincerity that provokes such a response. Alright, he’s hardly sprouting revolutionary politics, but his songs contain themes you can believe in. From ‘Heavyweight Champion…’s reminder to never waste one breath to the awkward but genuinely affecting ‘Sex With The Ex’, The Rev’s message is this: the moment you stop believing in dreams and love then something’s gone awry. To critique him for believing those things is a violation of all that makes mankind good. You can only wish more musicians were so brave of heart and tonight, in front of people who believe in him and his message, the only watertight reason to critique the man is that closing tune ‘He Said He Loved Me’
is bona fide, solid gold dogshit.
Afterwards on the steps, one of the gathered mentions the 5/10 pasting Reverend And The Makers’ debut recently received in this very magazine. McClure says nothing and smiles, gesturing to the many, many people who’ve stayed up past their bedtimes to meet him, indicating that’s all the acclaim he needs. It’s fitting. Adoration is, after all, the currency of heroism. And The Reverend is most certainly a hero.