Doors – 8pm
Ethan Johns has worked with artists Ryan Adams, Laura Marling and Kings of Leon and has created sounds that the discerning alternative music lover has come to adore. Only now he’s experimenting with using those sounds for himself that made others famous. Now he’s a recording artist de facto.
Kicking off his seventeen date tour in trendy and young-spirited Brighton, Johns is quick to establish an affable and relaxed presence on stage and creates warm dialogue with the one-hundred-strong crowd. His mixture of acoustic/folksy blues is pleasant and rough-and-ready in equal measure but doesn’t really warm the heart or inspire imitation. Seemingly he plucks out home-grown influences and crafts them into his own sound. There’s certainly an eagerness to gain a connection and intimacy with his audience but it can sometimes be difficult to comprehend what Johns is trying to express. The lines between myth and realism can be blurred.
He jumps around the stage, like a magician almost, fiddling with sound equipment, just trying to get that perfect sound. It’s almost like we are sitting and looking through a soundproof glass wall that isn’t actually there, waiting patiently for the producer to twinge that fader or a FunkBox to create something visceral.
Very much a one man show spectacle, we sense that Johns is in unchartered territory. Suddenly he is on his own; the comfort and familiarity of a studio is gone. He moves between two electric guitars, a grand piano, and his iPhone – each with an amusing and enchanting story behind it.
“My dad was best friends with Rolling Stones keyboardist Ian Stewart and he bought my dad this piano. He was the coolest of all The Rolling Stones by far. My grandmother used to play it in the house and I grew up with that sound.”
He speaks also about his new iPhone with humour and light-heartedness:
“He doesn’t drink, he doesn’t turn up late to sound-check and he plays in time. He can’t speed up if I want him to though…” he shares about his app.
We get the impression that Johns is caught in between two worlds – the world of the observer and the tinkerer and the world of the musician who is a focal point. It’s perhaps telling that Johns’ album is named ‘If Not Now Then When?’ signifying that his debut album could be his only release.
Johns is most impressive when he uses his immense production experience to create landscapes of autographical splendour to a (at times) captivated crowd. Towards the end of his set in which he played tracks from his new album including the excellent ‘Whip Poor Will’ and other newer tracks, he confesses that he’s “feeling like my insides are out.” Quoting literary figures such as Gary Snyder he drifts into a warm on-stage daze: “The world is enough. Nature will provide!” he explains like a spiritual non-denominational preacher. Fitting that his first gig is in a church that “welcomes all who seek spiritual meaning in life, all who believe religion is wider than any one faith” as quoted on their website.
After putting himself “out there” he’s probably sensing what all his artists go through in their careers. He is still emotionally attached to his artists – but who wouldn’t be? Laura Marling, Ryan Adams and Kings of Leon arouse powerful emotion in all of us. Now Ethan Johns could do as well…
Artful simplicity from the couple in the cottage next door.
Ninian Dunnett 2012
We don’t do next-door very well in pop journalism. If we’re celebrating the back streets of Liverpool, it’s probably because they’re the roads that once led to Shea Stadium. Which is a strange thing, because small-scale, local and intimate music can be just as affecting as anything you’ll hear at 50,000 decibels.
Trevor Moss and Hannah-Lou make a good case for a change. This is a married couple with a song about allotments and a history of playing in village halls at places like Dilton, Wiltshire (the parish councils take a bit of handling, apparently).
And actually, they have a whole other history, too, of record label showcases and support slots on high-profile tours with their 00s indie/bluegrass band Indigo Moss.
Leaving the conventional biz behind, though, they have pared their music down to a perfectly simple thing: two guitars and two voices. And what this cottage industry delivers is the kind of unpolished virtuosity that makes a tambourine sound like a technological intrusion.
Led by Hannah-Lou’s airy, plaintive soprano, the harmonies are as well drilled, syllable for syllable, as any 60s girl group. And with the strings strummed and finger-picked on restrained arrangements of sparky folk-pop melodies, it would take an icy heart not to warm just a little.
The duo’s third album is something of a holiday journal, recorded over 10 days on a four-track cassette recorder in a barn in rural France. Still, these are postcards from abroad that might get you resolving to give the Pays de la Loire a miss next year.
There’s a good dose of cloth-cap nostalgia, and plenty of pleasing visual imagery – as well as building up an archive of grassroots musicians recorded at folk club nights, the couple have ventured into some rather lovely homespun documentary filmmaking.
But there is also seriously dark reflection amongst the catchy tunes
This Leicester, UK singer-songwriter has the most gentle and breathy tone I have ever witnessed. Her vocal control and voice are amazing, soulful and full of emotion. Anyone could listen to her sing the most boring of words. But no one will have to, as one of the best parts of this EP is the writing.
Her music is slightly reminiscent of Adele mixed with a female version of Andrew Belle. But Mahalia has a style and feel all her own, which will probably develop and mature even further with time. Each song has a beautiful message of love and emotion, easily allowing us to fall in love with her sound and her storytelling ability.
The Music Ninja