During the encore of Morganway’s fourth show in a stretch of ten dates taking them across England to promote second album Back To Zero, three people spontaneously held up their phones and waved them with the lights on. Bassist Callum Morgan grinned, visibly on a different ethereal plane, as he sang a song about singing songs.
A few songs before the end of the set, Callum led the band on his composition World Stopped Running. It’s one of nine tracks on the new album and one of five pre-released before it is set upon the world the day before King Charles is crowned ruler of the Commonwealth (although it was available at the merch table three weeks early). A year after the song was first added to their set, World Stopped Running and its woah-ful hook has joined show opener Let Me Go as one of many high points.
According to keyboardist Matt, this was his 313th gig as a Morganwayer. He must have played My Love Ain’t Gonna Save You, Frozen In Our Time and London Life hundreds of times, but perhaps never to this standard. The band raised their game in front of a packed Omeara, ably assisted by opening act Alyssa Bonagura, whose presence on their tour may have helped them find an extra 10%. Her new song Jealous sounded even better live than it does on record, and her catalogue of songs of self-empowerment like Warrior, Rebel and I Make My Own Sunshine are very of the moment.
Singer SJ, with both leg and arm no longer in a cast, was able to show the full extent of her powers, holding a cordless microphone draped with feathers and performing the lyrics excellently. She led the band on an acoustic version of Back To Zero’s title track and electric versions of Come Over, Wait For Me and The Man, the other three rollouts from the new album. The last of these came out 36 hours before the London show and may well elbow out old chestnuts. It won’t be the only one: SJ said that album three, produced by their faultless sound man Magic Mike, is already in the can.
One thing that perhaps gets overlooked by audiences is the interplay between guitarist Kieran Morgan and fiddle player Nicole J Terry (the J stands for ‘jery good at the fiddle’). Throughout the evening SJ would often take a step back and let the string players have their turn, either trading riffs and licks or finding harmony and concord. They did so on You Can Only Die Once, which was a pleasant surprise to hear and proves how many tracks Morganway have in their arsenal. Having mentioned five of the band, it’s only fair to compliment the superlative drumming of ‘Steady Eddie’ Bullinger, whose white jacket lasted about three songs before being hurled aside.
Alyssa and her guitarist Steve joined the band for a two-song encore. Callum took vocals on the aforementioned ballad We Sing, which is about the perils of being away from home out on the road. At the close of the ever-reliable Hurricane, SJ and Alyssa traded lines and complimented each other; Alyssa must have heard SJ’s long held notes at the end of several songs, and I am sure she doffed her wide-brimmed hat to new song Home, which may well become the band’s career song.
SJ introduced Home as a song about how much she loves the band. Well, she’s married to the guitarist and the bassist is her brother-in-law!! But the point stands that this is more than six musicians playing notes and coming in and off at the same time. Throughout the evening Callum would go over to Matt, turn round to look at Ed or whisper something in Nicky’s ear. Perhaps he’d admit to marvelling at his twin’s guitar Catherine Wheeling. There’s a bond that comes with doing hundreds of shows together, with all the transport and rehearsal and band meetings too, and to perform on a Saturday night at a 200-capacity London venue is evidence of their growing fanbase and pulling power.
All of that may account for what I call entropy. In some performances, the energy from the band goes to the audience, who boost that energy further and send it back to the band and so on and on. I saw it with Cam a few years ago and nowadays I always look out for it. I think entropy is why Callum broke out in a grin: playing songs to appreciative crowds is one of the main reasons bands like Morganway do what they do. In the face of venue closures and the availability of every other entertainment option, people still want to drive themselves around the UK carrying their rock’n’roll wares.
Wherever Morganway and Alyssa Bonagura end up next, the dues they have paid should have them cashing some cheques.
Back to Zero is out on May 5. Alyssa Bonagura is preparing to release her fourth studio album.