laurent-mouflier-scrollerYou certainly can’t accuse Time Out of ignoring up and coming talent; they’ve been running the Rising Stars event in various venues across London, including Jazz Café (newly refurbished and looking very nice indeed), 229 The Venue and Green Note featuring half a dozen unsigned acts performing showcase sets. They’ve covered a wide spectrum of styles and featured all sorts of line-ups from solo artists to full bands. The one thing they all have in common is quality; the September selection was no exception.

Mark Sullivan opened the evening with a set of soulful acoustic songs backed only with his acoustic guitar and a loop pedal (oh, and a stunningly powerful voice). He threw everything into the performance and finished with a cover of the unplugged version of “Layla”; job done. If you were expecting Malory Torr to turn up wielding a ukelele, you would have been disappointed, but not for long. Backed by bass, drums and keyboards (and some lovely harmonies), she delivered an atmospheric set including a cover of “She Drives Me Crazy”. Joe Slater (from Liverpool) played a short set in singer-songwriter/Jake Bugg style, finishing off with the by now, obligatory cover, “Live Forever” this time. And then it all got a bit loud.

Nick Howe played a barnstormer with a full band and a beatboxer. Powerful songs, a band who were on top of their game, and a cover of “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree” were the highlights. Wang Dang Doodle hark back to the golden age of blues harp players with Laurent Mouflier’s gritty voice and superb harmonica playing topping off the glorious noise created by Mylon Kosmas, Francesco Cuturi and Ben Heartland. Stellify completed the line-up on the night with their classic rock sound of big riffs and thunderous bass and drums.

Another great night, with only one reservation and it’s about the audience rather than the performers. Why is it that audiences at showcase events (not just Rising Stars) drift away after seeing whichever act has brought them there? Wang Dang Doodle and Stellify played storming sets to a half-empty hall. It wasn’t even 10:30. The artists and Ray Jones and his Time Out team put a lot of work into making these events successful; why would you leave halfway through?

You can see some photos from the night here.

ThumbnailFor one March night in the spring of 2014, the north-west corner of Fitzrovia became a time machine.  Last Friday, the area shifted back thirty-five years; you couldn’t escape the check shirts, Harringtons, black shades and pork pie hats in The Albany and the Green Man.  The reason for this sartorial timeshift was that The Selecter was back in town at 229, The Venue supported by Warwickshire’s best-kept funk secret, Stone Foundation.  Reunion tours and nostalgia gigs, I can take ’em or leave ‘em; The Selecter played a really tight, professional set and had the audience bouncing  to the sound of all the old hits.  The old fans loved it and why shouldn’t they; the performance was probably much better technically than the late 70s/early 80s shows.  They also got a really good DJ set from Rhoda Dakar, which built up nicely to the start of the headliners’ set.

But while we’re talking about time travel, let’s go back to the start of the evening.  The support band chosen by The Selecter for this tour is Stone Foundation from Atherstone in Warwickshire and they are very special.  Stone Foundation’s fourth album, “To Find the Spirit” is out this week.  On the back of years of hard work and touring, the band seems to have become a ten-year overnight success.  The independently-released album looks set to make an impact on the album chart this week and the band is riding the crest of the wave; the band recognise all of this and refer to it during their support set, but really it’s business as usual with maybe a hint of celebration.

And business as usual is a seven-piece soul/funk band playing together as a tight unit and having a great time.  This band doesn’t have an obviously dominant personality; they all work together, the guitar, horns and Hammond combining over the solid rhythm section of Neil Sheasby and Philip K Ford to produce a sound with all of the best elements of sixties and seventies soul and funk.  If you imagine a cross between the Average White Band and Dexys Midnight Runners, then you won’t be far off the mark.  In true jazz club style, there are solos throughout the set from Ian Arnold (Hammond), Spencer Hague (trombone), Dexy D’Angelo (trumpet), Gary Rollins (saxophone) and, occasionally, Neil Jones (guitar).  How often do you hear trombone, muted trumpet and soprano sax solos these days?

The set opened with the new album’s title track, “To Find the Spirit”, and also included “Bring Back the Happiness”, “Don’t Let the Rain” “, “Stronger Than Us” and “That’s the Way I Want to Live my Life” as well as earlier tracks, “No More the Fool”, “Let the Light” and “Tracing Paper”.  If you want to hear flawless contemporary soul/funk then you should really listen to Stone Foundation either live or on record; you won’t be disappointed either way.  While we have bands like this writing, playing and performing, there’s still hope for the music business.

Cover229, The Venue?  It’s easy to get to because it’s part of the International Students’ House complex just across the street from Great Portland Street tube station.  Venue 2 is a basement room with a stage at one end and a bar on one side.  The acoustics are reasonable so it’s not a bad place to watch up-and-coming bands.  My mission tonight, if I choose to accept it, is to have a look at London alt-indie (let’s leave the description at that for the moment) band, Vera Lynch.  In keeping with their highly eclectic sound, the band has a multinational line-up with members from the UK, USA, Hungary and the Far East.  They are: Sándor Sztankovics (drums), Ted Barker (bass), Keisuke Nishikawa (guitar), Brian Pistolesi (guitar) and Guy Harries (vocals).

If you could splice the musical DNA of Dick Dale, Ennio Morricone and English ‘80s post-punk, you might come close to defining the Vera Lynch sound; you might even want to throw a bit of early Bowie and INXS in there.  The band has an EP out at the moment, “Evil Cowboy Surfer Songs” (to be reviewed here soon), and you might expect to hear all four songs from the EP as part of a short live set, but it doesn’t work out that way because, well, this is Vera Lynch.  In fact, only two songs from the EP, “Fire” and “”Evil Cowboy Surfer Song”, make the live set.  The band opens with “Dog in the Club” and then “Lost Property”, “Horror Doctor”, “Child of Jago” and the anthemic closer, “The End of the World”, follow the two songs from the EP.

It’s quite a spectacle; the band look great and they play together as a very tight unit, moving through varying musical moods with style and panache and providing a bedrock for the lead vocals.  Guy Harries is mesmeric and messianic, a twenty-first century Ian Curtis (but with a sense of rhythm) who transfixes the audience with his scary, stary-eyed delivery and a voice that might just have a hint of Freddie Mercury in there as well.  Musically and visually, they are impossible to ignore and you really should make the effort to go out and see them.

If you want to see Vera Lynch live in the next few weeks, you can see them at The Dolphin in Hackney on Friday February 28 or Underbelly in Hoxton on Friday April 18.