You 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.
OK, I cheated with my favourite five photos by doubling it up to ten, but I think it was worth it. Following on from my all-female shortlist, here’s the (mostly) male version with photos from a wide variety of musical styles and some very interesting venues. If you’re interested in the running order for these, it’s really simple; it’s chronological.
John Fairhurst at Rich Mix, Shoreditch – I heard about John Fairhurst in 2014 when I reviewed his “Saltwater” album but had to wait until February 2015 to see him live. Rich Mix is a cultural oasis set between strip joints and banker pubs in Shoreditch. The venue features a wide range of musical styles and it has a really good lighting rig. John Fairhurst dressed for the part with a bright red suit and made the colour/black and white debate completely irrelevant. I could have picked any one of half a dozen shots from that gig for this set, but this one captures his onstage perpetual motion machine. Thanks to John and Fabio Suttle for setting this one up for me.
William Paris (Billy Walton Band) at Hockley Community Centre, Essex – Another first-time venue in the middle of the Essex countryside where a few quid has been spent on decent stage lighting. The Billy Walton Band always give good face, but this gig presented some interesting opportunities. As Billy led the horns on a Pied Piper dance around the room, the rhythm section were left on stage with no guitars, saxes or trombones in the way and I had a great opportunity to get a decent photo of the uber-cool bass player William Paris while the audience was looking the other way.
The Vans at The O2 Academy Islington – Another gig that I went along to with my mate Jonesy because it was on his manor (sorry slipped into mockney again). This was one of those showcases that could have been brilliant or awful; it was 80% brilliant with a varied selection of bands and reasonable lighting. The Vans are Australian and play catchy melodic rock that you just have to like. It took me a couple of songs to work out that there were some Fab Four parallels and I was lucky enough to grab this shot of Kat and Ryan that absolutely had to be black and white to catch that sixties feel.
Laurent Mouflier at The Borderline – For the launch of his “Grio” album at The Borderline, Aidan Connell put together an interesting line-up which included Wang Dang Doodle opening the show. Laurent Mouflier, the band’s singer and harmonica player is always an interesting photographic subject, and my portfolio’s not exactly overflowing with shots of harmonica players. Lighting at The Borderline can be a bit hit and miss but, on this occasion, it was absolutely perfect as Laurent tilted his head back (eliminating any possibility of shadows from the brim of his hat) and blew up a storm. Possibly my favourite photo of the year.
Ian Siegal at O2 Blues Fest – With a choice of pop-up venues scattered around the O2, lighting was always going to be a bit unpredictable, but Brooklyn Bowl has a permanent stage with a pretty good rig, so there would at least be opportunities for some decent shots. This was the second time I’d seen Ian Siegal and the first time with a band. After trying a few different angles, I moved in close and framed really tight, ignoring the guitar and concentrating on the face. It worked perfectly; this was one of those rare occasions when you know as soon the shutter release clicks that you’ve got the shot.
And that’s definitely the end of the photos for this year. Bring on 2016.
Every time I go into a venue in Soho like The Borderline, I wonder if it’s going to be the last time; the headlong rush to gentrify messy, sordid old Soho seems to be progressing at a frantic pace and it doesn’t look like there’s room in the planners’ brave new world for basement venues where you can hear great musicians play loud, beautiful and sometimes messy music. So I’m making the most of it while I can.
The occasion this time was the launch of Aidan Connell’s “Grio” album, and Aidan celebrated by putting together a programme which built steadily toward his headline appearance. The opening band on the night was The Wang Dang Doodle playing their version of Chicago electric blues; they sounded good and workmanlike, but really caught fire when Laurent Mouflier evoked the spirit of Little Walter with his blistering harmonica solos.
Next up was Southbound, a five-piece from Hertfordshire delivering a set of original songs inspired by (surprisingly enough)seventies multi-guitar bands from the Southern states of the USA; if you start with the Allman Brothers and throw in a bit of Lynyrd Skynyrd, then you’re probably fairly close. The rhythm section was tight and funky, allowing the two guitarists space to play together or trade solos, and the vocals were always convincing. They’re very good at the moment, but you can’t help thinking that there’s a lot more to come.
But this was Aidan Connell’s party and he was never going to disappoint. Throughout the set the band play in the tradition of the sixties power trio; rock-solid most of the time underneath the lead vocal and guitar, but with the ability to loosen up and improvise (or follow the leader) when required. The relatively short set opened with the uptempo “Everybody Else” from “Grio” and about half of the songs were from the album, including the absolute standout single, “I Hate Rock ‘n’ Roll”. The songs are strong, the playing’s spot on and there was even a bit of fun at the end of the set when Laurent Mouflier stepped back up to join the band for the final number, trading licks with Aidan and generally having a great time.
Aidan Connell’s a very interesting proposition; he’s heavily influenced by the original blues greats and the power trio era, but he brings some twenty-first century influences to the party as well. His voice is a bit more soulful than bluesy and he likes to introduce a bit of a psychedelic element as well. While some blues players can be a bit serious, or even precious, about the music, Aidan likes to have a bit of fun as well, playing solos with just the left hand while having a drink, playing behind his head and with his teeth; it’s not even showing off, really, it’s just someone who’s really, really good having a bit of a play while doing his job. Wouldn’t we all like to do that?
“Grio” is released on October 2 and we’ll have a review for you very soon.