Photos of morris dancers adorn this home of the English Folk Dance & Song Society, and the atmosphere is pin-drop reverent as the Prince's legions gather. Floorboards creak, glasses clink, and someone actually tiptoes. No wonder Will Oldham's first act is to wince, then hurl us into his world of gore, spunk, death and cunnilingus. The mountain man who tore up British stages last time round has been replaced tonight by a straight-backed loner in the smart-casual dress of the conscientious worker.

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Bonnie “Prince” Billy – Cecil Sharp House, London

Photos of morris dancers adorn this home of the English Folk Dance & Song Society, and the atmosphere is pin-drop reverent as the Prince’s legions gather. Floorboards creak, glasses clink, and someone actually tiptoes. No wonder Will Oldham’s first act is to wince, then hurl us into his world of gore, spunk, death and cunnilingus.

The mountain man who tore up British stages last time round has been replaced tonight by a straight-backed loner in the smart-casual dress of the conscientious worker. He swallows his country moustache in fish-gulping grimaces, jigging and stamping like a hillbilly fool, adding to the aura of eccentric inarticulacy he cloaks himself in to put off those trying to penetrate his private kingdom. I remember what a skilled child actor Will Oldham was, and what a brilliantly deceptive creation his Bonnie Prince is.

Which doesn’t mean he’s a fake, any more than Robert Zimmerman. The collision of defeated desire and lusty fucking, of equally embraced death and life in a starkly exposed, Godly land, the body-ripping schizophrenic struggle living causes him in “Black”?this is a world as real as anyone’s, however artfully expressed. Oldham is so relaxed tonight that all the humour in his work pours out, breaking the academic atmosphere with gusts of dirty laughter, as with his happiest song, “Death To Everyone”, when in a Sid James growl he announces death “makes hosing much more fun”. Having already commanded the “ladies gather round and do me from above”, the fatalism underlying this shamelessness is expressed elsewhere: “I can’t offer a thing. It’s better than dying, so take it.”As people drift quietly around this old hall, Oldham’s laughter and seriousness merge into profundity, till on “I See A Darkness”his voice cuts softly through the air to tell us, “You know I’ve got this love, for everyone I know, and drive to live, that I just won’t let go.”

By the encores Oldham is shrugging wonderingly, saying stone-faced to another explosion of cheers and pleas, “Y’ all make me wanna come.”Asked to “play some rock’n’roll”, he reveals, “I only do that on the inside.”He’s cast his spell gradually, creating a land of laughter, love and maggoty decay.