Having not seen The Gentle Good for a while, it seems that since April he’s been waiting for me at every turn.  It’s been good to get reacquainted with his warm, literate folk and to marvel again at the baffling ease with which he nimbly picks out seemingly complex passages of crystalline guitar.  There’s a scattering of new songs in the set too; ‘Pamela’ and ‘Ocean’s King’ sparkle with immediate familiarity, fitting in perfectly but building subtly on ‘Waited Up…’ favourites rather than merely replicating their charms.  Admirably rising above steady early evening chatter and friendly chuckling at his gruffer than usual voice (it’s the cigs, apparently), the road-testing of the new tunes goes down a treat with the few dozen attentive souls sat stage front.

Never seen Huw M play before, not sure how.  The chipper Bangor one-man-band has an unmistakably North Walian charm, polite bilingual introductions passing the time while he reprograms the drum patterns.  Sunny acoustic folk-pop bolstered by a patchwork of loops and pitter-patter beats, it’s familiar and welcoming (there’s echoes of Gruff Rhys’ solo gigs around Yr Atal Genhedlaeth) but crucially it’s done way better than a lot of this sort of thing.  There’s variety, there’s interaction, some cute cameos from Huw’s wife on vocals, tales of troubled French train journeys, a plea for support in his campaign to play Green Man (which sadly didn’t come off) and a barnstorming MC Mabon cover which sees the needles clatter into the red for a fine finale.

Easy crowd banter is, with the best will in the world, not Richard James’ forté.  Just as well he’s bloody good live, then.  Tonight’s gig is to launch his long-overdue second album We Went Riding, and if it’s not exactly on the scale of the launch of the QE2 – no fanfares or fireworks – then that’s in keeping with his low-key charms.  Augmented by a returning Gareth Bonello (lap guitar) and Evening Chorus’ Eugene Capper (violin), the band seem confident, fluid and above all hugely into the new songs.  They’re LOUD, too, and if in the past James’ set tended to drift a little between the barnstormers like ‘Wanna See You Die’, here the buoyant mood underpins the whole affair to the extent that ‘…Die’ isn’t even needed.

There’s a sense that this is increasingly a band, not a guy backed by a handful of friends, and this shared focus undoubtedly helps James; his voice is never required to dominate and the dual backing vocals add colour to the delicate, melancholy likes of ‘Aveline’ and fuzzed-up stomps like ‘Blues’ too. 

Not too many older songs tonight – it’s a new album launch, after all – so much so that calls for an encore meet with an admission they’ve not rehearsed anything else.  When he’s finally cajoled back on he fumbles about a bit, scratches his head and explains that all his lyrics are locked in the store cupboard in the corner.  A bemused stand-off (“it’s a farcical situation, really…” he whispers apologetically) between performer, crowd and staff is finally broken when someone locates a key, and to matey cheers from the rest of the band he starts a gentle acoustic encore without even a glance at the pile of lyrics.  It’s all about confidence.  Just as well Richard James appears to have plenty these days.