Live at Brudenell Social Club (Games Room) on Wednesday, 22nd April 2015
The annual Communion New Faces tour has been going for a few years now and while it is yet to truly break an act several alumni have gone on to bigger things including the likes of Luke Sital Singh and last year's headliners Amber Run. Over the years the promoter has also proved itself to have a type, namely youthful artists with a penchant for a pretty pop melody and this year's crop are no exception, in fact they exemplify everything that is laudable tour is about.
Having moved from their usual base of Holy Trinity Church to the smaller environs of the Brudenell Games Room, the tour seems to have attracted a smaller crowd than normal, the size of which is thrown into sharp relief by the fact that Adam Ant is playing to a sell out crowd in the adjoining room. And whilst It's true that the four acts on tonight's bill may not sport the extravagant outfits and makeup of the 80s legend but they provide plenty of entertainment.
First onto the makeshift stage is Charlotte OC. The singer songwriter is on the cusp of releasing her debut album and judging by her set it will be full of slinky, sultry and lambert keyboard-dominated electro-pop. Immaculately turned out and dressed in lycra, she appears slightly out of place in the confines of a back room of a working man's club but nevertheless she delivers a professional set that suffers a little from the lack of atmosphere in the room.
Colour My Heart typifies her sound with its throbbing pulse that threatens a crescendo before teasingly pulling back and an aching vocal that proves to be impressively versatile, ranging as it does from a cracked falsetto to a deep huskiness. Hangover has more of an upbeat feel that verges on modern disco with its laser effects and finds the singer cutting some dance floor shapes, whilst Strange is as dark and moody as a storm cloud.
Freddie Dickson deals in equally dark material (in fact if there were a criticism of tonight it would be that all four acts plough a similar furrow). A more credible Sam Smith, Dickson's set is full of moody, crepuscular pop that details the obsessive, malignant, curdled side of love. Even without the services of a drummer (in keeping with all the acts on tonight's bill) he manages to imbue the material with an admirable punch. His voice is both pure and full of soulful power, whilst the treated guitar and keyboard accompaniment adds another layer of pretty unease.
News is a churning, rumbling beast of a song that starts slowly before breaking out into a giant chorus that sees the veins in his neck straining for freedom. Latest single Speculate is also a standout with its silky guitar figure and glistening keyboards propelling the melodic verses into another big chorus. Over the duration of the set the songs do feel a little one paced but there is enough here to make you think that Dickson has a bright future.
Frances is a young, sensitive singer-songwriter/piano balladeer who deals in pretty heartbreak - a 21st century Beverley Craven if you will. Backed only by her own piano playing she is understandably concerned that she might be drowned out by Adam Ant, as well as being conscious of the fact that her southern accent becomes more noticeable the further north she travels. But she needn't worry, as her powerful voice and passionate playing are more than a match for the rival PA.
Without a full band to accompany her there is little to differentiate the handful of originals that comprise her set but taken in isolation every song is incredibly accomplished. Coming Up For Air encapsulates her sound perfectly with its pretty, mellifluous piano motif augmented by her emotionally expressive voice that has a pleasing querulous quality. There is nothing revolutionary going on here but it is beautiful stuff. Without doubt one for the incurable romantics.
Headlining the show is Londoner Tenterhook, another singer songwriter with a predilection for heart wrenching soul searching. His set (arguably the best of the night) is peppered with plangent acoustic ballads dominated by his falsetto vocals. Somewhere between Damien Rice and Snow Patrol, his compositions are full of pained emotions, minor chord plucking and big choruses (he produces a remarkably all enveloping sound for one man).
The constancy of his strained falsetto is overwhelming and draining at times but songs like Chemicals are superbly uplifting. Opening with an elegant arpeggiated melody, the song soon transmutes into an urgent gallop overlaid with a keening vocal full of desperation and regret. The highlight of the evening though comes in the form of a sublime duet with Stephanie Fraser. London Heart is a song that could break the hardest of hearts. Over a plaintive guitar figure the two singers join together in soaring harmonies that compliment each other perfectly.
It is a wonderful ending to an evening that proves that the ranks of British pop songwriting is in rude health. Perhaps next year though it would be nice if Communion considered showcasing something from the more challenging end of the contemporary music scene.