A Storyteller’s Song

Rupert Wates is not only a singer and guitarist but a storyteller, too. Courtesy photo

Rupert Wates is not only a singer and guitarist but a storyteller, too. Courtesy photo

What: Rupert Wates
When: Thursday, February 28
Doors: 6 p.m. • Show: 7 p.m.
Where: Playhouse 211
4320-100 Southport-Supply Rd.
St. James, NC
Cost: $12-15
Info: www.playhouse211.com

Gently yet rapidly picking his handmade Irish acoustic guitar, Rupert Wates serenades his audience with an Americana quality despite his London heritage. His folk-like lyrics  evolve into epic stories. This facet, paired with his clear tone, reminds one of James Taylor.

Wates began his full-time musical career in the early ‘90s. “I played not very seriously in college,” he divulges. “I also lived in Paris, France for five years and took a break from music. I didn’t see it this way at the time, but it was like a sabbatical for me.”

During the break from his guitar and his voice, Wates discovered prose and journalism as another creative outlet. These two past fascinations are evident in his original songs today. His songs are poetic and flowery, and his subjects could be pulled from a D-Day newspaper.

Some of his songs strike the listener with semi-graphic details. In “I Dream,” he sings of war and desperation: “I dream of another age / I dream of a kinder shore / Where no more bloated corpses line the road … I dream of another world / I dream of another sky / Where the smoke of funeral pyres will say / That war itself has died.”

Likewise, in “Sally’s Farm,” Wates forces his audience to open a crude—yet necessary—door, to look into the rape of a young girl. The singer dares to ask questions where others would shy away.

However, in every song he provides a glimmer of hope, as in the very next line of “I Dream”: “I dream of a tender name / I dream of a loving hand / And a world where roses bloom beneath the fading stones / I dream of another voice to sing with mine / And tell me I don’t dream alone.”

These days, Wates spends most of his time molding his music into tales like these, fed by his interest in reading true crime stories. “I believe you can find out a lot about a community from reading about their crime and how they handle it,” he explains. “You get to the heart of a community a lot quicker.”

He also likes to study history, American history particularly, and civil rights struggles in the South. Wates finds inspiration in the lives of others when it is sometimes difficult to get a grasp on his own ideas. Though he admits each of his experiences lend to his songwriting. “It’s quite difficult to get a handle on it,” he adds. “I find it easier to write about true stories which I’ve read and have a form, and set them to music. I borrow other people’s experiences and filter them into my own songs.”

He connects with each of his song’s characters, and then connects them with his audience. And it’s these connections that Wates prefers. “Even if I were offered to play in venues larger than 300 to 400 seats,” he shares. “I’m not sure I would enjoy it. I like having direct contact with the audience, when I can look at them individually and feel that they’re very close to me.”

Wates believes performing in front of a larger audience takes away from the artist’s show. With no personal contact with the guests, he feels the musician can hide behind the role he’s playing. “In front of a smaller audience, though, it’s a challenge, and it’s more rewarding,” Wates says.

Relocating to the U.S. in autumn of 2006, Wates has found much more success than in his native country. He’s garnered a slew of songwriting awards over the years. “I think it’s easier in America,” he says. “In London it was very difficult because there’s an awful lot of people doing the same thing. I have an identity here because I am British. I never thought I fit in with British culture, and I feel I am an outsider wherever I am. It is easier to be an outsider in America because as a foreigner, you’re allowed to be.”

Wates will perform two sets at Playhouse 211 on Thursday, February 28th. The first will begin at 7 p.m., and the second will follow after an intermission. Tickets are $12-15 and available online at www.playhouse211.com.

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