An Evening With JF Robitaille and Lail Arad – Coronet Theatre Bar – February 11th 2020

Lying awake on a Monday night/ Tuesday morning, unable to sleep and convincing my hypochondriac self that my niggly cough is in fact Coronavirus, I use a bit of distraction therapy by checking out acts that are playing later today in London. My eyes and ears are drawn to JF Robitaille and Lail Arad’s set over at the Coronet Theatre bar in Notting Hill, a new venue for Sonic Breakfast. A quick listen to ‘The Photograph’ by JF and Lail on YouTube and I’m sold. This is my must see for a Tuesday night.

Their literate, country folk, steeped in the traditions of the best songwriters from the past, was never going to disappoint. Think Paul Simon meets Dory Previn, the streets of Greenwich NY with a Gallic twist, the poetry of Leonard Cohen with thoroughly modern flourishes and you won’t be far from the place that this duo navigate towards. 

The Coronet Theatre bar is quite a mish-mash of a space. Over there, a range of mirrors in all shapes and sizes dominate a wall. On the wall opposite, handbags are the theme. We sit on iron conservatory seats and plush antique chairs admiring the globes and hats that dangle above us. The bar staff work from behind a piano, serving drinks onto its top. The overall feel is one of plush yet quirky decadence, a private members club that nobody should feel excluded from. “It’s a great place for a gig”, I agree with Pip, a vicar I get chatting with who also has a neat sideline in gig promotion. 

Lail and JF take to the stage for this show of two halves and Lail reads from some prose. Perhaps I should recognise it – the florid descriptions of those moments before a gig begins both set the scene and calm the mood. Tonight we will lounge and luxuriate, relax and roll in chilled delight.

Lail and JF open with two singles; familiar territory for many here gathered before the new material is triumphantly tried and tested. We learn that the video to ‘The Photograph’ was filmed in this very venue. The duo jump between instruments; electric and acoustic guitars, harmonicas, tambourines and piano providing the variety that helps maintain our interest. But with harmonies and arrangements as special as these, there’s no chance that minds will wander. The first duo-album has been recorded in Italy with a full band but these are songs that don’t need clutter and full instrumentation to work. 

The second half begins much like the first ended but we do get chance within this section to hear mini sets from the solo repertoires of both JF, the doting French-Canadian and Lail, the proud Londoner.  JF digs deep into his back catalogue whilst Lail plays a completely new tune, a frantic ditty, busy with words perhaps called ‘hustling’ and possibly a reflection on there not being enough hours in any day. 

The home straight is upon us. This has been a night of optimistic romance, of lost love, of kitchen-sink dramas and travelling tales.A speaker buzz that crackles like a cry-baby as the set closes does not dampen the overall spirit. A medley of love songs to Europe and the EU bring proceedings to an end. Tuesday’s don’t tend to get better than this.