Live review: Lark Lane Acoustic Festival: Day One
@ Christ Church, Linnet Lane
Saturday 1st September 2012
Saturday 1st of September has so far been one of the warmest days of recent, it’s safe to say the summer we all expected has kept us all waiting. But rather than enjoy the warmth of the sunshine I’m sat in a freezing cold church just off Lark Lane. I’m not here because I’ve suddenly found God or become spiritual, I am here in fact for the Lark Lane Acoustic Festival held at Christ Church. It seems that when Liverpool Acoustic spot there are acoustic happenings in a church they ask me to review them ["see Family Folk-up review here" Ed]; I think I know why but I’ll get to that a little later.
Upon entering Christ Church you realise just how big a space this is and what a grand building these artists are attempting to fill. I take a seat up front and await the space to fill, either with the sound from the PA or audience members.
First up is Ogo, a very soulful acoustic artist. He has a lovely voice that suits the venue well; sadly his first three songs are marred with technical issues as leads crackle and hiss. Once these issues have been resolved you can hear Ogo’s soft picked guitar underneath his voice, he plays well but due to the softness of a lot of his songs they seem to become lost within each other and it not until his final song where things become a bit more upbeat that makes me sit up and take note.
One of the best things of today, and this is a sad observation but humour me, is that the turn around between artists is nice and quick, no fuss, no faffing, no sitting awkwardly for half an hour whilst people set up, it’s brilliant. However this does mean that soundchecks are rushed and become more of a line check with sound being adjusted throughout the first song. This was the case with Suzanne Jones and Vinnie Spencer; as they start their first song a hum of feedback can be heard to drone throughout. This continues throughout the first half of the set and must be giving the performers as much annoyance as anyone else. Many of the songs feature two guitars and at times I have to wonder if two were needed, did a second guitar really add to the song or was it purely there because there happened to be two people on stage? That being said some of the lead parts were particularly skilful and interesting. Maybe it’s a case of finding the right place and ‘amazing’ rather that ‘saturating’?
Remember I said I thought I knew why Liverpool Acoustic ask me to review shows in churches? Well I’m pretty sure it’s because nobody else wants to sit on the hard church pews! (Is that right Graham?) [“No comment” Ed] As I await Thom Morecroft to start I realise I’ve been sat here for about an hour and the pews are already killing my backside! These lovely big churches that are supposed to be welcoming, warm and comforting are anything but that to me at the moment! I have made several mental notes to bring a cushion with me next time. Anyhow, onto Thom Morecroft. Thom is one of the artists that I had seen several times over the Fringe Festival the previous weekend and had been thoroughly impressed with his performance each time. Thom takes to the stage with his percussionist Christophe Cousineau who brings with him a tambourine and a cajon. The cajon proves a great source of amusement as sound engineers seem to marvel of its simple design and attempt to mic it up. Thom proves to be a highlight of the day with strong impassioned vocals, songs about friends and intricate guitar work. He engages with the audience between songs and plays what seems a quick and short set of his songs with ‘Daisy’, ‘Holly’ and ‘Oh Rocko’ standing out. Certainly one to watch for the future.
Up until now each artist has performed a set consisting of their own compositions. The next artist Jazamin Sinclair performs only one original song in her half hour set instead relying on covers to fill it. Now I believe covers have a place in music, I love a good cover version and have been found guilty of performing an array of them in my own music, but bands/artists need to make the song their own. It is this which grates with me throughout the set, and I am unsure what Jazamin has done to gain such high billing above the other three artists on the bill today. As an opener she would have been fine but for me she just doesn’t cut it this high up the line up.
Taking a break from the singer songwriter approach, next up are Choc Electrique (or Choc Acoustique as they introduce themselves). From what I understand today’s performance is far from their usual shows and sees them with two acoustic guitars and vocals. What is immediately obvious from these guys is the sheer intensity of vocalist Greedy Jesus, evidently the showman and performer of the group with stage moves and a presence that is not matched today. The vocals are not suited to an acoustic performance but hold their own when a malfunction with the mic happens. I’m sure they also sound better with electric guitars behind rather than the open honesty that acoustics offer. The band seem to enjoy themselves and I’m sure it was a treat for their fans but it maybe wasn’t the best introduction to Choc Electrique for me.
For anyone still interested yes my backside was still killing me! I take a small walk around the church grounds and film an acoustic session with Thom Morecroft before heading back inside to catch Kaya’s set. Now the first notes I wrote down as I watched her set were ‘inoffensive’ ‘doesn’t stand out’ by the end of the set I had completely reversed that opinion, not that I suddenly found her offensive but her songs grew on me as the set progressed. Adding friends on backing vocals only strengthened her own vocals and added a new dynamic to the set. On the topic front Kaya has strayed away from the usual acoustic fare of love, loss and boats and instead offers the listener something to think about rather than just tap along too. My lesson learnt here? Don’t judge an artist on their opening songs. Kaya proved to be one of my favourite performers of the day but at first I was ready to dismiss her, shame on me.
I had seen Mark Byrne at Liverpool Acoustic back in June and enjoyed his set so I was pleased to see him on the line up today. His songs sound instantly familiar, which is the mark of a well-polished song writer and performer. Mark also injects some much needed humour into his onstage banter which sets his apart from the other performers today, recounting his times in church as a boy and the gas that he once pumped into a church, to regaling the audience to a history of the church. Thankfully they did rebuild the wall! Mark’s voice is very pleasant to the ears and carries his songs well, and he completes his set with a John Martin version of a traditional folk song to much applause.
Dave O’Grady steps up next and has the difficult job of following Mark Byrne. I’m pleased to say he confidently takes the stage and holds the audience’s attention for the entirety of his set. His strong voice is similar to that of Greedy Jesus earlier in the day but more pleasing to the ear, it has a deep dark quality to it that has not been heard in other artists today. He was also the first artist that was not afraid to be loud on an acoustic guitar today as well, and part of the reason I enjoyed his set was the dynamics between the softness of the guitar and the harshness that he could create especially when he veered into a more bluesy territory. He finishes his set with a cover. Now this proves the point I was making earlier, tackling The Beastie Boys ‘Fight For Your Right To Party’ on an acoustic is not an everyday occurrence and causes me great amusement. I can only imagine listening to this with a group of friends and finding it hilarious. For this time ‘Fight For Your Right..’ was not a Beastie Boys song it was a Dave O’Grady song.
Another artist I had seen over the Fringe Festival was Zinney Sonnenberg, I’d enjoyed his set but I hadn’t felt compelled to seek him out online afterwards. Today he is backed by friends, one on the tabla and another switching between the mandolin and electric guitar and really enhancing his songs. Previously I had thought that the tabla was a little too much throughout every song but it finds itself mixed back in the sound today and creates an interesting atmosphere in the church. Zinney’s songs sound very spiritual on their own with the accompaniment of mandolin or guitar they take on a new drive. He comments that they have rehearsed a ‘bouncy’ set for tonight and it shows as each song bounces along nicely and has a sense of urgency. They close the set by inviting Nicole Collarbone to join them on cello and set about performing an epic seven-minute song that lacks neither diversity nor pace. If they haven’t rehearsed this it certainly doesn’t show.
Closing the evening tonight is host Neil Campbell and the aforementioned Nicole Collarbone. Like several of the other performers today I did not know what to expect, and I was certainly not expecting instrumental songs to finish the day. Now this is purely my opinion (and what the hell, it’s my review) but I’m just not a fan of instrumental music in any form. I like words, I like singing along, I like to listen to what someone has to say. That being said it does not detract from the talent that both musicians possess and others in the audience are engrossed by each piece as they perform. What I would’ve liked was perhaps something to watch as an accompaniment. Had they set up a projector and shown some short films, images or words it would have given the whole performance a new angle. As my backside continually reminded me throughout their first few songs I had been sat down for a long time on a very hard bench it was time I made a move and left.
Overall it was a nice day with some interesting performances and a good start to Lark Lane Acoustic Festival. Sadly I was not able to attend on the Sunday and as people made their way to Christ Church on Sunday morning I made my way to London for another acoustic night only this time away from hard pews and cold churches and in the much more comfortable setting of a basement! I know how to live, I can tell you!
Review © 2012 James Addis
Live review: Lark Lane Acoustic Festival: Day One