Live at The Library on Friday, 1st May 2015
In Bulgaria, that fine Southern Slavic nation in which many fantastic rituals are had, on the first day in May the people celebrate the more unusual of festivals name Irminden. It is a day in which the king of the snakes, lizards and reptilian creatures is said to arise from burrows in the fields, only to ensnare and attack the unassuming pastoral people. Fires are lit, songs are sang and pottery is crafted to ensure that no one be left unguarded against a snake-related horror. Back here in Blighty, however, we have always tended towards simpler and less shocking goings on, like the family friendly May Dancing, and the crowning of a May Queen. It is seen, I feel, as more of an introduction into the summer; an easing into the warmer times. Personally, my May the First was spent with the singing of songs, but a little closer to home than the Balkans, thankfully, once again in the 360 Club in Leeds.
On the setlist were some genuinely exciting acts, so I'll avoid further cultural deviations and delve straight in. To begin the evening were two equally charming folk, a man and a woman whom together play under the name of Littlebrook. an alternative folksy type outfit created eight years ago, but until now, had played few live gigs. With an instantly warming tone created by a duet of two six stringed acoustic guitars, they impressed a growing crowd, in particular with the crafty fingerwork of Dom Bennison on the guitar. The chemistry of the two was clear, and the highlight had to be their covers; the key to a good cover, in my humblest of opinions, is to take something which was already good as it was, and to respect that, and so to perform it in such a way as to not withdraw from said song, but to craft it in a completely different and novel way. And yeah, they did that. As stated fans of Neil Young, as as one myself, their cover of Heart of Gold was wholly unexpected but really was on point. They also covered Dreams by Fleetwood Mac, a crowd favourite almost everywhere you go, which thus takes some doing, but was safely done justice. Pleasing, unexpected, and not what I'd listen to normally, but something I might just do now. A very agreeable start.
Next was Huw Eddy, a man whom exuded indie chap with a guitar before he had even reached for his instrument. A small act based in Leeds, he brought the tempo back upwards, an always welcomed turn, with his punchy songs with above average lyrics. He tries to put across some feel of adolescence in his music, and the bluesy undertones running throughout his songs added some musical class. A well-humoured young man with obvious ability; if you don't believe me, listen to Northern Girls, a track that will have you tapping your toes before you can even think about it.
This brought us to a solo acoustic act billed under the unpretentious name Ben Roberts. A young student relying solely on the depth of his voice and his acoustic prowess, he was reported to me an exceedingly talented fellow who had taken inspiration from Ben Howard and the like back in his school days, and was now beginning to excel. This in mind, he opened up into set which, if i'm honest, was really, really startlingly good. As in, damn good. His song Thunder, which is of course one which you should all listen to, was powerful and immediately attention grabbing; its stark and purposeful chord progressions were mellifluous and smartly emblematic of the title, a rich but rewarding song. It is refreshing to so easily perceive a message, or at least a thematic strain in a song for an unsigned act without having to peruse through the lyrics or make assumptions. This
young man's ability was frankly clear within minutes of beginning to play, a fiendishly hard skill the lack of band considered. As he strode through the rest of his set, his guitar work became increasingly sharp; his use of potent chords paired with delicate picking, muted strings and percussive palm beats introduced a little something few could do with a wooden box with a few metal strings, especially at the ripe old age of 21. In short, dare I reduce to that, Ben Roberts is one of the lucky few out there who has picked something to love, which he clearly does, that he is also, quite by chance and the alignment of the stars, that he is actually good at. Whether he quite knows the full scale, I couldn't say, but thus far, he is doing something right. A way to represent not only his musical ability, but also his confidence in his vocals and general act was his encore. Firstly, to get an encore at an unsigned gig is one thing, but to then pull out (Sittin' on) The Dock of The Bay, a song adored by literally thousands of people is representative of someone truly cut from a slightly finer, richer cloth. Again, a cover that was truly his, he respected the great song, but made it definitively a song by Ben Roberts at that moment in time. If i'm honest, I was taken aback far further than I could anticipate by an unsigned act of twenty one years of age. I guess it's the perks of the job. The chants in girls' voice of Ben Roberts are safely on the horizon, and I must say I'm a little excited.
To end the night was a change of genre, not necessarily just from the night, but from most genres in general, really. Jacobean Ruff are a vast band using pretty much all the instruments you want/need/know of in a half an hour or so set. Ranging from a various brass instruments to a garishly coloured melodica, this band reiterated in me the need for a touch of humour and character in music; because of course, what's life without whimsy? The refinement of the act was ostensible, too; each individual was well rehearsed at their instruments, and as a display of showmanship, few, if any for that matter have rivalled them at this beginning level of a career. Captivating from the outset, there be no need for a cogent and well articulated argument in their favour - their show lets you know straight away. Playful, with charismatic song writing, the eight people on stage that night impressed all in the crowd without fail. Notable was the song 'Wild Things' apparently inspired by Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are. In fact, if you're like the rest of us and probably more recently remember the film (sorry, just because I play with words doesn't mean I don't watch films, duh), it did assuredly evoke memories of the picture, and perhaps not just because they told us it would. A well oiled band with this track framing their talents ideally; lively throughout but slightly coltish, all adding to almost entirely unique identity of a band. Novel, unexpected, and greatly enjoyed.
A night of exceptionally good music was gladly met by great applause and a rapt audience. Does he exist or not? I'm not sure. But, if he does, I'm sure even the King of the Snakes in his serpentine ways would have had a cracker of a night.
4 bands associated with this article.
Jacobean Ruff are a young modern folk band based in Leeds, forming in mid 2012. Despite being relatively young, they have already gained notoriety on the Leeds gig scene, playing in various venues including Oporto, the Cockpit, the Wardrobe, the Brudenell, Nation of Shopkeepers and Carpe Diem, as well as beginning to establish themselves as a festival band, playing in 2013 alone Beacons, Live at Leeds, Tockwith Beer Festival and Lainfest, among others. Their music has often drawn comparisons with Mumford and Sons, Fleet Foxes and Laura Marling, and could easily be described as a blend of the three. Communion Leeds called it 'An exciting pairing of thoughtful, traditional folk styles and clever pop songwriting'.
Leeds based alternative/acoustic/folk