Monday, May 12, 2008

In like Flynn

Johnny Flynn/Slow Club/The Black Report, Leicester Sumo, 4th May 2008

Unless the cameraman taking millions of flash photos from all conceivable angles at the front of the stage who doesn't reappear for any of the other acts is some sort of additional performance art aspect, The Black Report is one man, Callum Price, more commonly found fronting local Drowned In Sound and Annie Mac-approved, Shellac-inspired angular types Herra Hidro. Curious, then, that his own songs bear more resemblance to the sort of thing a skinny jeaned corporate indie band would turn out if their singer was required to perform a solo acoustic version of one of their songs, unenthralling melodic structures and lyrics that eventually blend into one inessential mess, cover of Richard Hawley's Just Like The Rain included. Still, he's brought plenty to see him, and consequently most of them bugger off to the bank holiday party happening upstairs straight away.

Which means they miss the unusual sight of a three-piece drum kit being set up centre front of stage. Slow Club are a duo on equal terms in which Charles (college yearbook hair) bashfully takes up often furiously strummed guitar and vocals while Rebecca (frilly pink skirt) hammers the kit standing up and harmonises or responds to the former's calls. The effect falls somewhere close to a northern English answer to the Moldy Peaches' minimalist New York minuets, or perhaps closer to a scaled down Tilly And The Wall. Like that band's tap dancer they're not afraid of finding new methods of percussion, Rebecca using the back of a wooden chair as percussion throughout recent single Me And You. There's also noticeable harks back to rockabilly and skiffle, with that basic rattle, and a little Everly Brothers in the harmony construction. There's a darker undercurrent to many of the lyrical themes, but isn't there always, and there's as much outright sugar-sweetness about such themes as youthful allegiance and adolescence, and whatever it's barely noticeable as the pair share jokes mid-song and clearly enjoy the privilege of being on stage. It's infectious too, as within two songs they've tempted most away from talking at the bar at a volume which suggests they see that thing in the corner as competition, and by the end they've managed to formulate a dance-off among the front row. Some would call it twee or nu-folk, anti-folk might be closer, but whatever it is it's party music for the indie kids who think that little bit bigger.

Cherubic he may look, but Johnny Flynn very much is nu-folk, this specious genre recently coined by the music press to envelope the likes of Laura Marling, Noah & The Whale, Emmy The Great, Florence And The Machine and basically anyone else young with a strong voice and acoustic guitar, except on a wider scale where it's generally the Fence Collective artists, Devendra Banhart, Adem and basically anyone else of advancing age and experience with a strong voice and acoustic guitar. Where Flynn has a better claim to most is that his style links the two disprite groups, pointing towards Richard Thompson and Bert Jansch as much as Iron & Wine and anti-folk pioneer Diane Cluck, as well as the American folk traditions and a healthy nod towards blues and country. His band the Sussex Wit are no musical slouches, pulling out and switching instruments at a decent rate. Flynn himself has a go on guitar, banjo, mandolin, violin and trumpet, while for one song the cellist makes for the drum seat, replacing the keyboard-bound usual incumbent. What this makes for is a varied set of trad folk brought up to date through a countrified prism, topped by Flynn's warmly efficient, if occasionally strained, vocal. Lyrically it speaks of a storytelling air, setting songs among the downtrodden and those blighted by life with a fine sense of wordplay and a sting, surely influenced by his other career as a Shakespearian touring actor. It finds its niche in the likes of Hong Kong Cemetery, a queasily emotional lament with trumpet fanfare, and recent single Eyeless In Holloway, which has evolved into a bluegrass hoedown. While the set flirts with sameness, there's an attachment and a pure folk-rock stomp to Flynn's songs that sets him aside from more tastemaker-friendly fare towards something more singularly interesting.


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