On the weekend that Australia Day falls, it feels strangely right to be watching an act from Melbourne who’s making waves. WILSN is currently on tour supporting The Teskey Brothers but tonight’s a night off and so the rising poppy soul sister takes on her own London headline slot at the intimate but all sorts of lovely Folklore.
I’ve been to Folklore before. I like its quirky charm, the vintage glassware, the backroom gig space that’s made out like a rural conservatory, foliage everywhere. A place with fine foibles we can agree.
On arrival, Mabes is playing. It’s her and an acoustic guitar. She plays well and has a cute voice whilst singing about the things that impact upon London-based youngsters in 2020. She tells us that she doesn’t easily fit in at parties but fills this room with her charm. I’ll try to catch a full set next time.
The sound at Folklore is fab. It’s clear and crisp and made for WILSN and her three piece. She has a drummer and a guitarist/keyboard player for accompaniment but also utilises backing tapes to work her magic. And it is magic; sweet and soulful, powerful where it needs to be and with an ample splash of gospel to keep aficionados intrigued. Her voice quivers a la Mariah Carey but WILSN stops short of the excessive theatrics that render MC unlistenable.
Yes, at times it does all goes a bit X factor and you can’t help thinking that WILSN needs to get a bit better at the between-song banter. But that will surely come over the course of this current tour. She’s delighted that crowds have come out to see her but she shouldn’t be surprised because the talent is there for all to observe.
Sporting an Alicia Keys T-shirt, there is something quite old school about WILSN. She plays a tune written last year in London with her friend, Tobie Tripp, and you suspect that milking these collaborations is a fine way forward.
It’s been a fun Friday night. I’ve even had a bit of a dancefloor shuffle at the more up tempo moments. You can’t say fairer than that.
Noah Gunderson is right. It probably does suck to start any UK tour at Islington’s Union Chapel. The wonderful serenity of the surrounds; the stained-glass looking down on us in this stunning place of worship. Other venues just can’t compete with the peace and beauty. “It’s all going to be downhill from here”, observes Noah wisely.
Tonight, the Union Chapel is Noah’s ark. His brand of singer-songwriter folk goes down a treat with the hushed audience who cling to his every word. Noah loves the British audiences; they’re attentive listeners and polite with their praise. We are in a chapel and sitting in pews after all.
He’s joined for most of his set in the chapel by support act, Harrison Whitford. Clearly friends off-stage, there’s a magic that works between them. Harrison harmonises and play crisp slide guitar licks whilst Noah holds fort taking cheap (and obvious) shots about the state of British food. Rich from an American.
We’ve already been treated to Harrison’s support set. He’s great; a storyteller with a manner of delivery that mixes Sufjan Stevens with Randy Newman; he plays a cover from the latter. It’s definitely going to rain today.
Talking of covers, Noah’s not averse to one or two himself. ‘I wanna dance with somebody’ sounds sad and mournful rather than pop. The Tom Waits cover, ‘Day After Tomorrow’ a smart addition and a set highlight. His own songs, earnest and literate, sometimes suffer from a popular blandness. I yearn for a bit more weirdness in my music but there’s no denying that when Noah really opens his mouth, a powerful voice comes to the fore.
In between the acts, a chap (whose name I miss) comes and gives an impassioned speech about the sadness of suicide, especially in young men. Apparently, it’s a cause close to Noah’s heart and he’s actively working with this charity to get men to talk, to be more open about their emotions. Got to appreciate that touch.
We parade out into rain-drenched Islington streets. I’ve enjoyed my first visit to the Union Chapel. The adoring fans are oblivious to a bit of drizzle.
Take out the slight blips and 2019 was a great year for Sonic Breakfast. This top ten rundown has enabled me to reflect on some of the many highlights. But ten is a pretty arbitrary number and it does mean that no space in this list has been found for some storming memories; LIFE at Marathon Kebabs (here), my early evening at the Institut Francais (here), Spearmint and Piney Gir at Water Rats (here) and Louis Brennan at the Pensioner (here) being just a sample.
I’ve hinted at it elsewhere in the countdown but 2019 was my Norway year. Aided by great releases and invites from Georgie at Propeller Records, I’ve been able to scratch the surface of a rich musical scene. There is no genre that defines the country. But, like cuckoos, the Norwegians are nesting in other homes, putting their own unique slant on the tried and tested to come up with something new.
Number one (fanfares all around) in the Sonic Breakfast chart of 2019 goes to the ace Bjørn Tomren and his short, showcase set at the Betsey Trotwood back in the Spring (here). Was this the best gig I went to over the course of the year? Probably not! But it whetted my appetite for an artist who had a neat spin on gloomy Americana. Like Kurt Wagner from Lambchop, Bjørn’s voice deeply swayed over picked guitar as stories of frustrating times on the road were relayed.
His album, Bad Science Fiction, came out in October and it really is a record to cherish. Dripping with melancholic delivery, it’s icy Americana, one for wintry nights around a log fire or for long drives over freezing plains with your in-vehicle heating turned up to eleven. It dabbles in folk and jazz flourish before returning to its alt-country core. A true slow burn of an album, you could see the quality of the songs emerge during the Betsey Trotwood showcase.
A truly deserving number one.
2019 was a full-on year of exploration for me. I loved nipping between the many, varied London venues discovering new delights. I’d struggle, if pushed, to name a favourite venue because there have been many iced buns in the bakery but high in the rankings would be Hackney’s stunning MOTH club. The repurposed British Legion Club is a fab gig venue; I’m yet to have a bad night there.
And of the few MOTH club gigs that I could pick for this epic exercise of a top ten, I’m delighted to announce that number two in the countdown goes to the night spent with Jonathan Bree and support act, John Moods (written about here).
John Moods played Paper Dress Vintage, another favourite Hackney venue, in November but I foolishly managed to miss that. His single that came out in the summer, I Wanted You, was a real cracker. The German popster returned to Berlin and played all manner of gigs across Europe.
I still smile when I consider Jonathan Bree’s direct generosity. A sold-out show, I’d given up hope of seeing Bree and band but the cheeky E-mail paid off. The friendly soul in a mask didn’t need to guest-list me but he did. I love that Jonathan Bree’s career has grown and grown in the last year. Once you see the live show it’s hard not to be smitten.
New tracks are being drip-fed from a future album. They’re sounding solid and in ‘Cover Your Eyes’, you suspect that there’s another set highlight in the making. It’s been a year of relentless touring for Jonathan and band, including a first ever gig for them in the Ukraine. I wish I’d been there. Returning to Camden’s Dingwalls on May 1st, you’ll have to lock me in my room to stop me from being there. And this time I won’t be begging Jonathan for my ticket.
I’m not really a writer who criticises much. It’s not my style. There were a few times in 2019 when I was less than effusive and one in particular that sticks in the throat. That March night and my review (here for reminders) at the Shacklewell Arms of the great TETINE and Fake Turins was also marred by the appearance of geriatric -rockers, Voodoo Rays. It seems appropriate that such a night should take number three billing in the Sonic Breakfast top ten of 2019. It’s the only top ten that Voodoo Rays will find themselves in this year.
Voodoo Rays weren’t best pleased with my review as evidenced by this response.
Thanks for the review.
I’m sorry our drummer almost knocked your pint over last night. The care home he lives in locks its doors at 11, so he has to rush to get back in time. I’ve tried to order a book on gig etiquette for him, but there doesn’t seem to be one available. You seem to know a lot about it- perhaps you should write the definitive text?
It’s a shame that you didn’t have time to talk about the music more; we’re always interested in sprightly well informed criticism of our songs. I think all I picked up was that we shouldn’t be so old. Rest assured we’ll try to be younger next time.
All the best
This is at least quite witty from Frank though. I also revelled in altogether less pleasant prose from another member of the band that’s not worthy of publication.
It’ll come as little surprise that Voodoo Rays did not feature in the BBC Sound of 2020 list. But they have played gigs in small venues in 2019. In 2020, they’ve entered a competition to play a festival. Bless them!! Still, I’ve resolved to be a much better person this year and if that means being invited to a Voodoo Rays gig and eating humble pie when they’re actually bloody brilliant then so be it.
A Fake Turins show featured elsewhere in this top ten (here) but they’re such a fine band I’ll give them two bites of the cherry. In a couple of Friday’s time, they are again playing at the Shacklewell, a headline set in celebration of a new single. It’s free and I’ve reserved my ticket on DICE today. So should you if you know what’s good for you and you don’t want to miss out.
TETINE haven’t played in London much since this odd night. The duo have been involved in all sorts of artistic endeavours though both here and back in their native Brazil. Their contributions have filled art galleries; they’ve DJ’d in dungeons and pushed the boundaries. They remain a thing to behold.
Back later with the top two of this slow, arduous and arguably quite pointless countdown..
There aren’t so many gigs on in London this week. Perhaps that’ll give me time to complete this top ten of 2019 countdown by the weekend? I’m off to my first festival of 2020 then – the rather ace looking Rockaway Beach at Butlins in Bognor and I’ll need my head fully clear so that I can focus upon my eFestivals review of that.
In at number four is the night I spent at the glorious Fitzrovia chapel with Sasha Siem back in February. It was a beautiful, exquisite night and I was still bright-eyed about all that London had to offer. Readers can remind themselves about that gig here.
Sasha is part Norwegian and this gig was the first show of the year that I saw part-promoted by the fab team at Propeller records, the label specialising in Norwegian releases. I’ve seen some absolutely cracking shows put on by Norwegian acts in 2019 – and one of those shows features higher still in this top ten.
In the second half of 2019, Sasha found higher profile by releasing a series of cover versions of ‘classics’. It’s a bold move to tackle such established numbers but one that marks a sense of Sasha’s growing confidence. Apparently, Elton John fully endorses her cover of ‘Your Song’.
Sasha has a new album coming out later in January. I’ll be listening in to see what direction this intelligent talent takes next. I’m sure it won’t be an obvious route.
2019 has been a great year for me. Zone one London living on cheap-as-chips floors, seasonal ups and downs and yet an ultimate sense of moving forward more than backwards.
Happy at the Spanish villa, I look out of the windows to see wispy white clouds stitched into the pale blue sky. Reeds in distant furrows wave at me as they rock back and forward in the shallow breeze. Peace. Restful peace. Chill.
I know that there are some back in Blighty for whom Christmas will have been tough. And not just those turkeys who voted for food-banks and a widening of the gap between the have and have-nots. It’s a time of reflection and for many life will be irrevocably different to how it was in 2018. Loss, grief, release, memories.
Number six in my countdown of Sonic Breakfast 2019 gigs is one that will always stick in the memory. It was at 26 Leake Street in May that I learnt of the passing of John. I wrote about it here. A fine man, I’m sure that there were tears and yet joyful tales told in his memory around dining tables this past week.
Since that night in May, Fake Turins have raised their profile with video releases and headline shows. Without giving too much away about the rest of this top ten another of their gigs that I saw features higher up the chart. So I won’t dwell much upon them here. Suffice to say that they’re one act that I plan to see before Winter gives way to Spring.
Shattercones ended the year playing support shows with New Model Army, dabbling in soundtracks and soundscapes. Their artistic endeavours will undoubtedly draw me in again in 2020.
Happy New Years Eve. Must get a boogie on with the top five whilst thinking of 2019’s highlights and lowlights.