Posted by Drew Swainston.
Reviewed on 18th January 2006.
Live at City Varieties on Sunday, 15th January 2006
In a modern world where singersongwriters are hotter than ever, unfortunately the bland James Blunt and beautiful Daniel Powter rule the airwaves. However, under the surface a new young talent has blossomed over the last twelve months, he's definitely not bland and not beautiful in a conventional way but Stephen Fretwell's album 'Magpie', originally released in November 2004, has touched thousands of fans with his hauntingly beautiful and honest songs. Tonight is the last night of a short UK tour and the City Varieties in Leeds has attracted a wide and diverse range of fans, all ages, sexes and social standing, to this sold out show.
When Jody Wildgoose begins his opening set the venue is barely half- full, and those lucky enough to arrive early are treated to a set of truly honest and heart-warming songs, mainly from his latest album 'Lovely White Teeth'. Songs about rock'n'roll dreams, being stuck in a rut and even dreams of Jimi Hendrix are beautifully performed. The addition of a variation of fellow instruments from piano to cello to even theremin combine to a wonderful effect the melodic and listening pleasure of a Jody Wildgoose set. Maybe this is another name to challenge the Blunts and co. in the coming year.
The night evolves dramatically when Morning Runner an indie four-piece from Reading enter the stage and attempt to rock the intimate venue. The change of tempo and attitude transform the slowly growing audience who immediately warm to Morning Runner. Recent support slots with both indie legends like Ian 'Monkey-Man' Brown and also huge bands like Bloc Party and Coldplay, have obviously given Morning Runner a noticeable swagger and confidence. This shines through and with some impressive up and mid-tempo songs go to prove why they are plaudited by the like of NME, Steve Lamacq and Jo Whiley. Although occasionally sounding like a sub-par Coldplay clone, especially when viewing the keyboard players obvious Chris Martin impression whilst playing, there are definite points where your ears prick up, your feet start tapping and you can hear true promise. It wont be long till the name Morning Runner is bombarding you from all angles after the release of their eagerly anticipated debut album. After an achingly long wait post Morning runner and some seriously stretched patience the lights dim and silence looms.
The City Varieties is quite a posh and swanky venue for Stephen Fretwell, especially compared to the usual establishments for gigs, and this is a pint not lost on the man himself. Striding onstage alone apart from his guitar, he opens the set with one of his new songs before embarking on those from his acclaimed and commercially successful album 'Magpie'. A combination of old and new material he continues with throughout the show. Unfortunately due to the venue and the seated audience there is never a true spark and the silence throughout the songs is greeted with bewilderment from the man himself. The new material is well received and shows promise of further success, however it is the songs off of 'Magpie' that get the crowd going to some extent. None more so than, when once again alone onstage, he plays the opening bars of 'Emily', his biggest hit to date. When joined onstage by his backing band and their sparse arrangement of flashing lights around the drums and piano the show flows with energy and vigour and songs such as 'Run' resound around the venue. However it is when Stephen Fretwell is alone and his stripped down songs echo hauntingly around the theatre that you truly capture the beauty of his music. Brutally hones and with a strong presence he captivates the entire audience and long after the last notes of the last song 'New York' have ended you know that you have seen a song writing genius at work. At 24 years old, yet writing and performing like a man twice that age, Stephen Fretwell has the voice, heart and ability to blow all the other bland singersongwriters out of the water, and thus British music can have another legend to treasure.