You would not need to spend too much time in the company of Dan Stuart to know that he is a man who has had his troubles. His shuffling gait, distended girth barely concealed by a striped shirt which may quite easily double up as his pyjama top and a general demeanour which leans heavily on the word disorientation would not put him out of place as an extra in Sam Fuller’s early 60’s film Shock Corridor. The very fact that he is stood before us tonight (his first appearance in Leeds in over 17 years, he tells us) is in itself a remarkable achievement, something that becomes even more apparent when he essentially breaks down during the intro to the penultimate song of his set. We are left unsure as to what particular demons this song taken from his new album has raised within him other than his apologetic explanation that he had suddenly found himself staring into the vortex.
It had not always been like this for Dan Stuart, though. For a short while in the 80s and early 90s he had flown fairly high in that psychedelic Americana firmament, first with Green on Red and then as half of the duo Danny and Dusty. Then he just seemed to disappear without a trace. Subsequent reports speak of a marriage having gone badly awry, something to which he alludes this evening but which in truth is already writ large all over his lonesome, weary face; an escape from a New York mental health facility; and then his living in obscurity as one Marlowe Billings in a Southern Mexican town where he had ultimately intended to take his own life.
The very recently released album “The Deliverance of Marlowe Billings” is his first recorded music in what seems like an eternity and as indicated by the aforementioned emotional meltdown in trying to execute one of its songs the pain of this journey is abundantly clear for all to see and hear. But despite teetering on the brink he avoids falling back into that abyss and from somewhere deep within himself manages to haul from his inner depths a truly death defying delivery of Green On Red’s “Baby Loves Her Gun”. Supported here as he is on the album by Italian band Sacri Cuori, their sympathy and sensitivity towards him as a man and musician is never better than on this closing number where Antonio Gramentieri’s guitar brushes such delicate strokes across the canvas of Stuart’s pain.
Doug Paisley, deserving of more than an honourable mention in the support act dispatches, spoke positively about his playing in the Brudenell Social Club, likening it to appearing in a David Lynch movie that is set upon a cruise ship. Whilst it is tempting to take the more harrowing aspects of Stuart’s life and view his performance here in the most disturbing interpretation of that description, it is ultimately anything but that. Two Lovers (Waitin’ to Die)” and despite its title is strangely uplifting, and “You Couldn’t Get Arrested”, inspired by the gentle flourishes of Christian Ravaglioli’s accordion, is really quite beautiful. Dan Stuart is a survivor. When once asked what were his future plans, he replied just to wake up interested. We are privileged to be here tonight and to be able to report back that not only has he woken up, but he is still very much interested.