Acoustic Night, Newhampton Arts Centre
Another raft of talented individuals from all over the Midlands were brought together in Whitmore Reans, Wolverhampton by promoters Baddies Boogie for another of their thoroughly enjoyable acoustic nights.
Dotted in between were the other acoustics of Newport's Olly Flavell and the big sound of Stourbridge's Jen Robins.
Opener Flavell fell victim to a broken string but was soon back on stage singing his version of the much covered Valerie. Flavell has a really solid and tuneful voice but he does try too hard to sound soulful and crowds his singing with vocal tricks. He needs to strip his singing back to its bare minimum where he will find it's not half bad at all. Once he sings with just his natural voice he can then add the embellishments more sparingly.
He does have a good range but it felt as if he was trying to use every trick in the book and consequently his voice was up and down, with harmonies sometimes sounding forced. He should trust his voice a little more it won't let him down.
Flavell moved into another cover version, this time from Maroon5 with Sunday Morning. Again his voice was a little out of control but when he levelled it out and stopped the up and down motion you heard the really tuneful voice Flavell has.
Flavell went out with a cover version of a cover version. He did his version of Noah's version of the dance hit I'm Sexy and I Know It and what this did is show Flavell does have some power to his voice but he does need to get it a little more under control.
Jen Robins took over with her likeable girlish voice and a definite confident stage presence. She too has a strong, tuneful voice with that Dolly Parton warble underneath occasionally.
However, similar to Flavell she tries too hard to have this soulful diva sound which she honestly doesn't need. Some of the stepped harmonies she put on the end of some of the verses, at times sounded like hiccoughs.
Robins' voice is good, powerful and produces some lovely deep harmonies which remind sometimes of the legend Parton.
She was very brave to try her hand at Bob Marley's Redemption Song and it has to be said she didn't do a bad job at all again apart from the verse endings where the phrasing sounded like a parody of spiritual or a soul singers' style.
Robins has a lovely, rich and very sweet voice but she needs to drop some of the musical bad habits she has picked up for it to really shine.
Without a doubt one of the highlights of her set was the Biblically titled Song of Songs, the simple undertone of her guitar did just enough to add a thin strand of colour to her clear notes and strong lyrics and there were none of the unnecessary embellishments just her distinctive voice.
She showed her versatility with her version of Simon & Garfunkel's Sound of Silence. The majority of the song was wonderfully executed but again she introduced the sound of singing while riding over cobblestones on a bike as the ending to several verses. This was a shame really because she gave one of the loveliest and emotion-filled version you are likely to hear.
It didn't matter no one could understand the lyrics, she could have been summoning all the demons of hell to turn the world to ashes but it didn't matter, because she sang it so beautifully.
Piece of Art, which refreshingly was a political song, she wrote herself. It was a straightforward ballad which relied on the strength of the words and her remarkable voice. It reminded of the heady days of the protest songs of the 1960s but was much more subtle. Robins has a lovely voice and a confident stage presence which makes you warm to her friendly nature straight away.
She was followed by Jess Burgess who has a very distinctive voice and sophisticated sound. At first she looked a little uncomfortable on stage but she launched into her first track Mardy Bum with confidence sounding uncannily like Lily Allen when she first burst onto the pop scene.
There is this air of coolness about her and she looked as sophisticated as she sounds. She really gave an example of how strong and clear her voice was with her version of White Noise from Disclosure. Burgess did a fantastic job, her voice was confident, melodic and had a real edge to it and her exact and sparingly-used guitar picking complements her vocals perfectly. When she said it was her own version of Rather Be from Clean Bandit she wasn't messing. Burgess put her own stamp on what is a pretty good dance track and didn't just try to do the tribute act thing.
On stage Burgess has this air of calmness, coolness and confidence and it comes over in her singing. It's always a brave or foolish move to cover a Disney classic but she did You've Got A Friend from Toy Story proud - it was a lovely version.
This time they were a mere duo of Nathan Till and Jay Cuthill although they do have a bigger line up. They certainly weren't acoustic but they did have an unusual electric/electronic sound.
They use a clever array of gizmos to create backing tracks, reverbs and a whole collection of eclectic sounds on top of Tills and Cuthill's lyrics and guitar playing.
Till, who did most of the singing, has a melancholic voice and their sound harkens back to the experimental sounds of early Pink Floyd but you can definitely hear influences from Radiohead, Massive Attack and Coldplay in there. Their sound is thoughtful, ethereal, clever and multi-stranded almost, in some cases, psychedelic. They produced intriguing tracks such as a cover version of Australian singer RY X's Berlin which most people probably wouldn't know but would recognise as the sound of the Sony 4K advert. Till gave this a harder edge with his guitar playing.
They premiered their newest song, Great White Whale, which was really atmospheric with echoing chords of the two guitars under-girding Till's singing. There is a great deal of work and thought goes into producing their tracks and it shows.
Till and Cuthill are both clever and excellent guitarists and their sound is different, atmospheric, intricate and very evocative. They provided an unusual and welcome twist in the acoustic night.
Finishing off the night was Richard Wellington and to be fair to Wellington his nerves got the better of him.
More used to being part of a group, Militia Inc, being up on stage alone with a guitar did him no favours. Picking a massive song like Black Sabbath's Paranoid and committing the schoolboy error of not tuning the instrument beforehand didn't help either.
But you have to give Wellington his due, it's not easy to stand in the spotlight all alone in front of an audience where there is nowhere to hide. His voice wasn't bad but of course his nervousness was affecting it and he did produce some slick guitar picking avoiding the out of tune strings.
He covered Nirvana's Where Did You Sleep Last Night and his voice held up quite well but the guitar being unfamiliar to him and still slightly out of tune did detract from his performance as it did with his version of Nothing Else Matters from Metallica.
To his credit Wellington was not afraid to tackle the big numbers, but he never really relaxed all through his set. It wasn't that bad a performance, it would certainly be worth hearing him again once he gets a bit more experience of playing alone and acoustic under his belt, the lad has got talent there is no two ways about it.
The one he shouldn't have attempted though, even it was for his dad, was Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here, the opening showed more than any other track how badly tuned the guitar was and Wellington needs to polish the performance a great deal before he tries it again.
But what Wellington illustrates is that young bands and performers need venues such as the Dunkley Street arts centre where they can make mistakes and gain confidence before an audience whether it be partisan or hostile.
Wellington admitted playing acoustic and alone was a whole different ball game. "It's more intimate and scarier," he said. But if there aren't the places for the young talent of the Midlands to be displayed and grow then this region will be a poorer place for it.
The next Baddies' Boogie night will be on July 19 in the upstairs room of Talk, Birmingham on the bill are The Rimes, Lauren Pryke, Sophie Watts & Jack Cleaver, Aiden Best, Laura Pick, The Vectors and Dale Phillips, please note the bill is subject to change on the night.
|The Mike Harding Folk Show