Gerry Cinnamon: The Bonny review – Scottish stadium sensation keeps it simple
There’s a narrative around Scottish singer-songwriter Gerry Cinnamon that he has achieved his success – selling 50,000 tickets for Hampden Park stadium in hours; a genuine phenomenon playing arenas across the UK – without the support of the media. Which is true, in the same way that it’s true that Quentin Tarantino became rich and famous without making romcoms. Both were choices, not circumstances forced on them.
Word of Cinnamon reached the Guardian in 2016 when he started selling out biggish rooms in Glasgow; it rapidly became apparent he wasn’t interested in talking to us, or to anyone else, really. There have been very few interviews and reviews: his public profile is in inverse proportion to his popularity.
That was probably wise of him. First, the virtues of his music are amplified if it appears to arrive unmediated. He has created a huge and loyal fanbase, and it’s the kind of loyalty based on those fans sharing his music with each other rather than learning about it from a music magazine. That’s something Cinnamon is plainly aware of, when he sings in Sun Queen: “Fakes in bands only wanna get wasted / They wear nice clothes but they’ll never even taste it.”
Second, in an age where straightforward songwriting is far from the critical flavour of the month, he probably steered clear of a bunch of scathing reviews, while positioning himself as the plucky outsider. The result is that he’s become bulletproof: the first man to sell out a stadium by word of mouth.
The Bonny doesn’t stray far from the template of Cinnamon’s 2017 debut, Erratic Cinematic – it’s mostly Cinnamon and his acoustic guitar, and sometimes there is basic drumming. The songs are simple but sturdy – the hooks are strong and grip even when you think you’ve escaped them – and when he brings in a full band on Where We’re Going, there’s the odd similarity to New Order at their guitar-poppiest, the same New Order that the Cure tried on for size on In Between Days. None of the songs depend on production trickery, otherworldliness or mystery: everything on The Bonny is designed to be obvious enough that repeated listenings reinforce rather than alter perceptions of the songs.
That’s not to say there’s no cleverness involved. The way Canter gradually changes, with the introduction of kick drum and tambourine, so its texture doesn’t remain unwavering is clever, and the addition and removal of that percussive momentum gives the song a tension and release it wouldn’t otherwise have. His guitar patterns, while unlikely to leave Jonny Greenwood thinking he needs to up his game, can be both interestingly sinuous and reassuringly direct: War Song Soldier twists compellingly without ever tying itself in knots.
So why aren’t the lyrics better? Clearly they serve their purpose, otherwise thousands of people wouldn’t be learning them from live YouTube clips before the songs are even released. And, yes, “You know it could be a canter / If you were just a wee bit less of a wanker” must be great fun to belt out in a crowd. But on Erratic Cinematic there were passages of startlingly vivid writing, deftly sketching out pictures in a few words – “A really nice guy but he hates life / He’s got sarcastic eyeballs / And a tongue that can slash like a lock-knife” – and there’s little of that here. Instead, there is a lot of the kind of nonspecific pseudo-wisdom that can pass for profound at a distance, but falls apart on exposure on examination: “One life is a short time / And no one knows where you go when you die.”
His voice – a rich, true rasp that sounds untutored but also unforced – carries the songs through their moments of weakness, but it’s frustrating. This is capable songwriting, but there’s the suspicion there’s a songwriter who is very much more than capable hiding away in there.