Words: Thomas Brent.
Tom Hickox took his UK tour to a packed and humid corner of the Scottish capital, playing at the Voodoo Rooms. His dramatic, downbeat and longingly miserable sound must have caught the fancy of many as the room was crammed with bodies, both sitting and standing.
Playing songs almost exclusively from his recent debut album War, Peace and Diplomacy, Hickox played out a captivating set that could so easily have been a backing track to a gothic thriller. His voice has some similarities to Tom Waits, but with deeper and smoother tones, making it sound dramatic and melancholy. His arrangements on the piano, joined by Justin Quinn on all instruments stringed, are haunting and beautiful with a backdrop of darkness, mystery and misery. If Tim Burton is looking for music for a new film, then perhaps Hickox is his man.
The duo kicked off the set with the song ‘Angel of the North’, with Quinn playing a lap steel guitar and Hickox as ever on the piano and vocals. This is the opening track of his album as well, and sets the tone for the rest of the performance, introducing the audience for the first time to Hickox’s surreal and otherworldly voice.
This is followed by the soothing ‘The Pretty Pride of Russia’ and then the theatrical ‘White Roses Red’, which Quinn starts off on the guitar laying down an ominous opening riff. Hickox then takes ominous to a new level with ‘Your Baby Was Asleep’, which starts on the higher notes of the piano in classic creepy fashion. The line in the chorus where the title is delivered carries a strange and spine-chilling impact and captures a moment of hushed silence from the watchful audience.
Suited and booted without a hair out of lick, Tom Hickox offers polite comments throughout the show, and it’s not until after he plays his most recent single ‘Out of the Warzone’ that he pulls out his party trick. The video for the song is filmed entirely in reverse, and relies on Hickox singing the song backwards. So he demonstrates this unique skill, sounding a little like a Rabbi delivering a sermon, whilst recording it on his phone. He then uses an app from his phone to play the recording backwards and amazingly it comes out sounding quite like the normal song.
Party piece deployed, now back to work. He cites PJ Harvey as his favourite artist and then duly plays a cover of her song ‘On Battleship Hill’. He slows it down and true to his style adds a degree of emphatic drama to the song, but it still carries the same emotional punch as the original.
Tom Hickox appeared on Jools Holland a couple of weeks prior to this show, and played a song named ‘Lisbon Maru’. He played it here too but with an added introductory story that really gripped the crowd. I could do the story no justice in re-telling it but it’s safe to say that Hickox’s powerful sound is matched by meaning and sentiment that sit behind the songs.
He closed the show with ‘Goodnight’, saying “this is called, and is, goodnight,” before a little awkwardly making his way to the side of the stage to wait to be called back for an encore. He chose to play two more covers for the encore, playing Eels’ ‘Railroad man’, and Roberta Flack’s ‘The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face’.
This rounded off what was an altogether beautifully crafted show with beautifully arranged songs. Hickox will be winning no awards for most energetic live act any time soon, with his stock of haunting and forlorn songs, but it really is something unique he is bringing to the music world. Comparisons to other artists fall somewhat short of capturing exactly how he sounds, and he really is worth seeing live, but perhaps bring a shoulder to cry on, or at least a box of tissues.