I’ve known Michael Kurtz since he was 16. That was six years ago. Back then, I spent January evenings down at Leicester’s Musician watching the best of the area’s local acoustic acts. And Michael was undoubtedly one of the best. With a rich, baritone voice and a lyrically astute delivery style, you couldn’t avoid the sense that he had effortless talent beyond his tender years.
Dean Jackson, the influential BBC Introducing man of the East Midlands got wind of Michael’s talents and studio sessions beckoned. Deservedly, Michael’s profile was rising.
We’ve stayed in touch a bit via social media. I was delighted when Michael checked in a few weeks ago to tell me about a couple of gigs that he was playing down here in London with his new band, Montrell.
I went along to the Gotobeat promoted Thursday night at one of my favourite haunts, Dalston’s Victoria. Michael generously added me to his list. I’d not come across the Gotobeat model before but I like what they’re trying to do. They’re putting on shows for a club of gig lovers. For a tenner a month, club members can go to all promoted Gotobeat gigs. Arguably, it’s an advanced way of doing things better for bands rather than fronting up the various free shows that London offers. I’ll watch their model with interest. And it’s their photo here as well.
Before Michael takes to the stage to we get those Tricky Dicky’s from Billericay, the cheeky chaps of Foreign T.V.. They’ve all come straight from work if their stage garb is anything to go by. Their lead singer sports a fleece advertising the painting and decorating firm that employs him. “I’ve still got paint all over my face, I’ve come from an orgy”, he jokes before the band launch into a James Taylor cover. It turns out that the hip-hop vintage vest wearing guitar player is a primary school teacher. “It’s times tables tests tomorrow”, he tongue-twistingly laments.
Musically, Foreign T.V. jump through a range of genres with their main focus being a laidback and sleazy 70’s jazz-funk. Yet over the top of that, they place the swagger of a Britpop era Blur and a lyricism of early Squeeze. We get talk of pheromones in the back seats of taxis before their lead singer throws his fleece into the crowd and conducts a choreographed aerobics. “I need it back for work tomorrow”, he warns.
Michael’s playing a solo set before he then takes lead guitar responsibility for Montrell. No slouch in the height front when he was 16, this giant man now towers over all as he haunches towards the mic stand. Foreign T.V. are a hard act to follow inasmuch as they make a lot of noise on stage and Michael doesn’t. And that background chatter (often coming from the mouths of that first act) is undeniably off-putting in the early part of the set. Michael perseveres though and his charm wins through. Like Nick Drake (or indeed James Taylor), his songs are gentle, clever and melodic. His voice still belies his years. He’s proud that Montrell have asked him to join them as their guitarist and the original members of the band repay the compliment by joining Michael on stage for a beefed-up and simply brill version of ‘Carved In Stone’.
There’s no denying Montrell’s musical prowess. So capable are they that they give off an air of session musicians having a night out. They write fine songs that might be classed as easy listening, middle-of-the-road pieces; think Bread (the band, not the sitcom) and you’d be in the right space. None of that is meant as an insult; indeed, I can’t think of many bands I’ve seen this year occupying such a space and I’d take such considered songwriting over indie bluster every day of the week. Jonny, lead vocalist, has a calm charm about him as he regales us all with tales of tracks written in German hotel rooms and songs about feeling alienated in the morning when you wake up in a strange place. There’s a picture of a lemon posted to the wall; the reason for which is none too obvious.
Montrell tell how they met Michael and knew he had to be their guitarist. The baby-faced one seems to be fitting in well and certainly adds to the overall effect of the band. It’s been a neat night and I head home happy.