Saturday & Sunday 5th & 6th October 2019 @ The Half Moon, Putney. Reviewed by Fresh On The Net’s Neil March (Day 1) & guest writer PaulFCook (Day 2).
The growing number of live events focused on new music artists is a welcome development. Music Makers is in its third year; a cool and diverse new music festival held over a weekend at the historic Half Moon in Putney, South West London. On the bill are some familiar names to followers of Fresh On The Net and BBC Introducing including very recent Fresh Fave Albert Man, Si Connelly, Roisin O’Hagan and Magic Numbers Bass Guitarist and singer Michele Stodart.
The last time I visited the Half Moon, about six months ago, the live room was standing only. Today it is a very different vibe. There are tables with candles and rows of chairs. It is an altogether more laid back aura but perfect for an engaged audience checking out seven hours of new music. Compere Stevie is an exuberant character and her personality and rabble rousing contributes to a positive atmosphere.
First to grace the stage is Soham De. A 21 year old singer-songwriter from Kings Lynn, he switches between playing acoustic guitar and keyboard while projecting his songs in an agreeably grit-edged and powerful tenor voice. He is no stranger to the UK Festivals circuit having played The Great Escape, Live in Leeds and a number of other significant events. He is also, by all accounts, a prolific live performer with more than 250 gigs under his belt already.
He kicks off with a melancholic slow track for piano and voice, his dynamic range cutting through as he rises to a climatic chorus. He switches to guitar, thus demonstrating within the opening tracks both his versatility and the power and scope of his impressive voice. The material is very contemporary, organic pop. There are shades of Ed Sheeran, perhaps in a mash-up with Callum Scott. His guitar picking is skilled and thoughtful and the autobiographical lyrics follow a far longer lineage of classic singer-songwriters.
His piano tracks also suggest a subtle jazz leaning with some sumptuous chords accompanying soulful vocal delivery. His personality is warm and the audience clearly takes to him. All in all, it is an accomplished performance and with a voice that good, he is an artist I expect to hear more of.
Next up is Roisin O’Hagan. She is an artist I have written about and who has been on my radar for some time. Today she is performing solo with electric acoustic guitar. She explains that some of her music is Country and some is more in broad singer-songwriter territory. What is true though is that she has the kind of appealingly edgy distinct voice that could easily place her in the Southern States of the USA rather than Essex. Even her self–professed ‘cheesy summer love song’ is powerful, full of suspended chords complementing a vocal which reminds me of Sheryl Crow and a little of British act Ward Thomas.
She has an easy on-stage manner that underlines her self-confidence. She chats with enthusiasm about her songs, explaining the thought processes behind them all. When she sings, everything is in place. Her intonation is note-perfect, diction is clear and her dynamic range and control are goose-bumping. There’s also a biting energy to her chord play. Get out of his car is haunting but also has a yearning quality. Dark Dark Lie, apparently written when she was thirteen, has an intensity and is almost in Courtney Barnett territory. Undone, by contrast, could almost be a modern take on Janis Ian. All great reference points of course. Run, her song about going after your artistic dreams even in adversity is as shuddering and majestic as it is easy to envisage with a full band behind her.
She ends with her most recent single Living in the dark. The opening could almost be Radiohead in a duet with Sharon Van Etten! Against the quieter open-fifths picked guitar figure, her voice sounds huge. Suspended chords (a feature of much of her material) begin to replace the quieter picking, rising to a crescendo in a big chorus. We are left with an over-riding sense of slight amazement at how one singer with a guitar has been able to fill the room with such satisfying sound.
Albert Man has been a Fresh Fave five times including the batch I reviewed on 30th September. He kicks off with an Elton John-ish piano and voice track with a high register figure that also recalls early Kate Bush. His voice and style, however, are much more contemporary than those references might suggest. The Manchester-born, London-based artist is also one of the organisers of Music Makers alongside the amazing Manoja Ullman. Chatting with him before the festival gets underway, he is sipping a hot lemon drink and reveals he is recovering from a bad cold. When he talks, the hoarseness is apparent. But you wouldn’t know it as his engaging voice soars and swoops over his piano accompaniment. Deep chords add a richness.
Say something loving, his single from last year, offers an opportunity to demonstrate all these contrasts of register, texture and dynamic. Feeling kicks off with an open intervals figure that reminds me of Walking in Memphis. He explains that this is earmarked to be a single release in 2020. ‘I’ll wait until after Christmas’ he wryly remarks. The grittiness in his voice is particularly effective here.
Albert is a proper story teller and that ability to cast himself in a variety of roles enables him to write about a host of subjects such as on the moving Say it out loud, a sad tale of teenage love. ‘You told me that the cool kids/When they leave school/They ain’t so cool’ he sings. How true! Recent fresh fave I need to confess turns out to be a track that never made the last album. He plays it slightly faster than the recorded version and its buoyant choppy piano and tongue-in-cheek lyrics come over well as does his deadpan humour. He ends with Groundhog Day which has an undeniably contemporary pop sensibility. If it isn’t already down to be a possible single, it possibly should be. A really fine ending to an excellent set.
The next act is Robbie Cavanagh. Another Manchester artist, he is accompanied by a pedal steel guitarist the very sight of which warms the cockles! Robbie himself plays acoustic guitar and is a very tall, hat-wearing figure who looks like he could easily be from Dallas rather than the North of England. Once described in a review as ‘unscrubbed Americana’ he actually does a good job of combining his obvious love of Americana and Country Rock with an unquestionably British Pop infusion however subtle. His tough-edged but strangely sweet voice is beautifully complemented by the pedal steel, sliding, crescendoing and vibrating with an otherworldly dreaminess.
Robbie also has a dry humour. Telling us how it’s a scientific fact that seated audiences pay greater attention he quips ‘That’s why Church did so well’! As he sets out his songwriting stall, a list of classic names drift through my head from David Crosby to Jackson Browne and from Glenn Frey to James Taylor. A slow track, possibly entitled Losing you, tugs at the heartstrings thanks to a gorgeous melody, thoughtful guitar picking and hauntingly beautiful pedal steel.
Drove is one of the new tracks due to be recorded for release in the new year. It is more obviously Country-influenced although when his voice climbs the register it is almost pure and quite haunting. He ends with Choked up which has a lovely lilting Country Rock feel; Delaney & Bonnie meet the Eagles! The pedal steel is upbeat and busy, fortifying the energy already pouring from the acoustic guitar. Robbie displays a cool falsetto to round off what has been a consistently strong vocal performance. And let’s face it; if you are going to base your music in 2019 on such a seventies-influenced Americana blueprint, you may as well do it extremely well.
Toshín are from Dublin and are the only band in the day one line-up. There are usually seven of them but today they are playing as a trio. The programme describes their music as ‘Soul-infused Pop-Funk’ which is not a bad shout. Influences include Aretha Franklin and James Brown but also Tank and the Bangas but in this stripped down line-up (vocals, acoustic guitar and keyboards), the funk element takes more of a back seat. Lead singer Tosin has a classic Soul voice gilted with venom that could be Lorraine Ellison mixing it up with Kelis. Her personality is instantly engaging and she manages to inject humour even into a song about being cheated on.
Toshín’s songs blend Soul and Pop with a large dose of Jazz and a smaller one of Latin music. Boy Listen is dedicated to ‘all the trashy men’ and kicks off with a lovely unison a capella before some spine-tingling harmonies blend with rich chords. The song has a cool jerky rhythmic configuration which is sometimes interrupted by long chords and harmonies. The understanding between them is key as they switch effortlessly between moods. We don’t share blood has an aura of Minnie Riperton about it and the two instrumental players provide a masterclass in shuffling subtle chord work. The vocal performance, and the lyrics, are powerful and the different timbres of her voice are put to stunning effect.
Knock Knock begins like a sassy slice of soulful pop and develops into an intense emotional fireball of a track. Surely a contender for future single. Tosin then poses a question which she points out we don’t have to answer: ‘Do any of you have Daddy issues’ she asks! Pleased to have had a few confirmations she and the two boys launch into a triplet time track that really isn’t like any you would usually expect to hear! Again, they tread the line between dark intensity and dry humour. The screams are almost blood-curdling but it all works as part of such a uniquely entertaining show.
A cover of Sam Cooke’s classic A change is gonna come reminds us of their Soul sensibility. They end with Girl go off in which they do a great job of being funky even without bass or drums. It has a great little riff that acts as a bridge to the main hook. Moreover it has all the key elements of their sound and is a great way to finish. If they sound this good as a trio, the full band must be something special too.
Michele Stodart needs little introduction (although she gets a big one from Stevie of course). The Magic Numbers bassist and singer has released two solo albums and is signed to long-running indie label One Little Indian. Tonight she plays acoustic guitar and starts off solo in what we learn is her third consecutive appearance at Music Makers. There is an almost eerie spaciousness about how she manages the trade-off between her powerful, distinct voice and her understated guitar accompaniment. She knows when to leave a chord hanging and let her voice utilise the natural resonance of the room.
She is joined from the second track by guitarist Zack. The interplay between them is magical and Michele’s individual vocal style with its clever little upward slurs and syllable-splitting staccato is compelling to listen to. My friend suggests she has a Karen Carpenter quality to her voice. I see what she means albeit an edgier version. She certainly shares her ability to dip into alto range with a rich wholesome quality. She can be funny too such as when she consults with the audience about whether to venture into angrier territory.
It is interesting that the songs mostly have a quiet aura and that adds to their power, causing the audience to sit in a trance-like silence, appreciating every note and nuance. There is maybe an Eva Cassidy comparison in the way the harmonically sweet guitar-picking jangle sits behind dynamic vocals. Not that Michele Stodart sounds much like her otherwise, certainly not vocally. But Nick Cave and Polly Harvey are also names that pop into my head here and there. I could probably go on throwing names at this but really what that shows is how hard it is to pinpoint who or what inspires such an unusual talent.
Night Owls sees Zack switch to electric guitar, a tasty looking light blue Stratocaster to be precise, but the two guitars continue to gel beautifully. Zack gets a solo on this one which is characteristically sensitive and executed with expert precision. Then, without warning, Michele gets the audience to sing along with her ‘Oohs’ before joking that we could ‘turn into owls’ if we’re not careful! The follow-up is so fresh she admits not all the lyrics are even written yet! That doesn’t prevent a confident upbeat Country-ish lilt from ensuing plus more audience singalong. She ends with an uptempo Country-infused track for which she coaxes the audience into adding handclaps for the bulk of the song.
Any young singer-songwriter savvy enough to want a master class in using space, economy, nuance and dynamic to create cool uncluttered works could do a lot worse than go and watch Michele Stodart and pay due attention. And budding writer or not, this is what it is like to be in the presence of a really special talent.
East London-based artist Howard Rose has caught the attention of Under the Apple Tree and BBC Radio 2’s veteran presenter ‘Whispering’ Bob Harris and it is easy to see and hear why. Performing with a trio of Howard on Guitar and Vocals plus Bass Guitarist and Drummer, his voice is distinct and his music combines classic Rock influences with elements of Country, Blues and Americana.
There is an air of Cream about the opening track in the chord structure and the response to it from the bass and drums. ‘We’re going to play some rock and roll music’ Howard chirpily announces and he is as good as his word. Not for the first time today some names from way back come to mind including Steve Gibbons Band, The Band, Ry Cooder and Bob Seger. But this is a hybrid of a great many ingredients and his voice is the magic ingredient in that mix. The band’s musicianship is a pretty decent asset too of course.
In introducing Old Glass Jar Howard confesses that he ‘feels old’ most mornings and this song is about feeling old! Wait until you reach my age, mate! It’s the highlight of his set for me, beautifully written and arranged with a killer chorus and a great middle section. It is full of dynamic contrasts, impressive playing and passionate vocals. Howard Rose’s music is essentially Rock but it does sit at the melodic end of that spectrum and the infusion of his sound with those Country, Blues, Soul and related tendencies lends it something extra. And that voice carries it all off in some style.
The night doesn’t quite end there however. The organisers have a surprise lined up to round off the day’s performances. Malachy Tuohy from the Rip-Tide Movement is in town and pops up to play two tracks from his new EP although solo with acoustic guitar; a calm and agreeable close to a thoroughly enjoyable day.
It was a beautiful day with the tail end of Summer trying to hold off the rain and wind of Autumn for a little longer. Neil March had handed me the reviewing baton and, having told me how much he enjoyed Day 1 of the MusicMakers Festival, I walked along the river towards the Half Moon in Putney full of optimism.
Music Makers run a tight operation, from the layout of the room, band names projected on to the stage, well stocked merch stand and a dazzling array of camera tech (tripod cameras, hand helds and even a mini Louma crane) through to the precision of the running order – 30-minute set, 30-minute break down and set up; repeat. They are friendly and welcoming to acts, writers and ticket holders alike and know that things only run this smoothly with months of careful planning.
Being the first act on any festival day can be a daunting task but Dublin-based Liam Geddes rose to the challenge admirably. He had to overcome a broken guitar pickup so switched exclusively to piano. He threw himself into his performance and the minute he started singing the audience were suddenly very awake. Liam has a voice that’s so loud and clear it could dislodge plaster and it’s debatable whether he needed a microphone at all. The track ‘Make it in L.A.’ was a highlight and he even managed a moment of audience participation; not bad for an opener. However, my personal opinion is that, given the strength of his own material, I questioned the inclusion of a Mumford & Sons cover. All in all, a cracking start.
Natalie Shay brought bags of energy to the stage and her voice had a giddying acrobat quality and swooped around her enthusiastic guitar playing with relish. I’m sure she’ll get sick of people bringing up her age – 19 at the time of writing – but it’s very impressive to see someone so young be so assured as a performer; I have seen people twice her age wracked with nerves on stage. Judging from her website she is a BRIT school alumnus who is yet to be signed. YouTube and Spotify clips feature a full band but this afternoon it was great to experience an acoustic set (just Natalie and guitarist Joey Oscar). Hearing the songs in their raw state allowed the exceptional range and character of her voice to shine through and I don’t doubt she’ll be signed and appearing in the charts in 2020.
As someone who listens to a lot of music, I live for those moments when an artist stops me in my tracks and gives me that tingling sensation that shows I have just heard something truly special. Josh McGovern is such an artist and, for me, he was the stand out act of the day. From the moment you hear the low rumble of his voice you get hints of Cash, Cave or Springsteen but then he soars up from a subterranean baritone to a gliding tenor and I too was lifted up; weightless and caught up in the moment. But what elevated his exceptional song writing, unusual tunings and strong atypical lyrics was his collaboration with double bass player Lawrence Jenner. Not only did Lawrence add the perfect plucked and bowed accompaniment but his voice was in perfect balance with Josh’s; two voices creating unity and balance. Josh is one ‘Later…with Jools Holland’ appearance away from stardom. Catch him in a small venue while you still can.
Lenny is currently based in the UK but hails from Prague where she has enjoyed a great deal of success from a No.1 single, touring (and supporting the likes of Emeli Sandé and Macy Gray) as well as winning awards. Today, she told the audience from her piano stool, we were hearing the songs how they were written; in their simplest and most personal form. The sweetness of her piano playing was a beautiful counterpoint to the rasp of her voice (like a young Bonnie Tyler or, indeed, Macy Gray). The performance was also greatly enhanced by the virtuoso Cajón playing of Adam Vychodil.
Storme were the perfect act to transition from afternoon to evening (soft drinks to hard liquor). With the lights low, Amanda Liedberg (vocals) and Gabriele Mazza (keyboards and drums) dazzled in all white stage costumes. They say that their music is about “silver linings: the defiant little lockets of light that glimmer in even the blackest clouds” and their brand of ethereal / rhythmic electronic music works well alongside a warm, smile-laden, stage presence that charmed the audience. Stand out songs were ‘Mother’ and ‘Queen’ and if Heaven has a version of Capital Radio, their music is no doubt regularly at the top of the charts.
Si Connelly burst onto the compact Half Moon stage like he was playing Wembley Stadium; his band already in full flight. He threw his whole-self into the music and his singing style often felt like the lyrics wouldn’t come out unless he wrenched them from his body, causing him great pain. He prowled the stage and controlled the dynamics of the band (who were super-tight) with hand gestures and could switch his voice between a rocker’s growl and a falsetto swoon. However, he may have learned one valuable lesson; If you drop your guitar (violently discarded when he switched to piano in an early song) it will drop you. That act of in-the-moment passion did lead to him spending a bit of time bringing it back into tune. Even though he played the same half an hour slot as everyone else, the energy of his performance was so intense he exited the stage sweaty and spent like he had been playing for two hours.
With the attack dog style of Si Connelly still ringing in the ears of the audience we reached the closing act: Belfast’s Beauty Sleep a ‘pop noise’ trio (their words) made up of Cheylene Murphy (vocals, bass and keyboards), Ryan McGroarty (guitar) and Ross Bickerstaff (drums). And what a great choice to close out the 2019 MusicMakers Festival. They were joyous and uplifting in both their onstage banter and songs, with Cheylene and Ryan sharing lead vocals and adding lush harmonies which were expertly underpinned by drummer Aimee who gave their sound drive and punch. You needed this crunchy element to add snap and crackle to their dream-pop elements of shimmering FX-laden guitar and colour-wash synth. The lyrical content was also great; especially in the tracks ‘Synthetic Debris’, about the plastic crisis, and ‘Be Kind’ which has the message we should adhere to – ‘don’t be a dick’. A fine closing act and, like Josh McGovern, FOTN readers should expect to see more of Beauty Sleep in the future.
Music Makers should be very proud of their event and how they organised and programmed it. Like Fresh On The Net, organisations that program up-and-coming artists need to be supported wherever possible. Without sponsorship (which can constrain your vision) so many events like this rely on the music-hungry, ticket buying public to come out and see great new music. At some point in their career you could have seen Coldplay, Led Zeppelin, Seasick Steve or Stormzy playing a youth club or the back room of a pub so think of the bragging rights of being able to say “You’re going to see Josh McGovern headline Glastonbury? I saw him back in 2019 at the MusicMakers Festival and I always knew he’d be huge”.Live pics by PaulFCook