Wednesday 12th April 2012
Words & Pictures By James Kendall
Once upon a time someone went to an open mic night and saw Jeff Buckley. That person never, ever shut up about it. Maybe tonight at the Black Lion there’s someone that the audience will mention at every dinner party for the rest of their lives. There’s certainly plenty of chances as the busy night moves along at a right old pace with barely a chance to rave about each act before the next one starts up.
Opening act Pete Hamilton has the confidence of a man who's done this before. In fact we'd bet he was in some pretty good bands through the years – he can certainly play guitar, as the little Beethoven licks in the bridge of ‘Roll Over Beethoven’ shows. For his tribute to Springsteen he has every pound of gravel in his voice as The Boss and his ‘Day In The Life’ gets nicely raucous at the end. He has fun with it.
Jenny Stanley (with her guitarist Graham) does all her own material, despite opener ‘Mr Loverman’ seeming like it could be the most ill advised cover version of the night. Her songs have big powerful choruses that let her crystal vocal break free, something she tempers with great mic technique (she obviously takes this very seriously). The sort of thing that is classed as country in America these days but is really good old fashioned pop rock. We imagine her album, when it comes, to be pretty polished.
Next up is Gavin Fitzgerald, a very different singer songwriter – more angsty and with a sensitive side shown by his dedicating a song to his mum in the audience. He’s pretty ill but, aside from a few off mic coughs, soldiers on without showing it. Perhaps it even amps up the emotion in his pretty songs – ‘Let Me Be Your Friend’ has a genuinely-beautiful picked guitar riff.
Andi and Rachel Hawker make quite a double act – Andi can really belt it out and Rachel is as talented on the guitar as she is in front of the mic. ‘Price Tag’ is turned acoustic to make it even more powerful and skips into Natalie Imbruglia’s ‘Torn’ without missing a beat. "This is for all the girls that have been dumped," says Andi, before diving in Alanis Morrissette ‘You Oughta Know’ with added passion and anger. We worry that she might sing through her vocal chords before the song is resolved.
Either a Kim Slade is an absolute natural at this or he’s pretty well practiced. The results are the same, as he comes across as handsome, charming and confident. ‘Pipe Down’ is earnest singer songwriter stuff that explodes into white-boy rap, while ‘Treasure Chest’ – emotional and full of longing – is perhaps the best original song of the night. The last acoustic act of the evening is Kit Bradshaw who is cool and easy going and looks like a star. His take on ‘Old Man’ by Neil Young is passionate while The Doors’ ‘Love Me Two Times’ is lively and fun. But the highlight is a slow, heartfelt take on Duran's ‘Ordinary Day’.
Rounding things off is Jag, a four-piece band so professional they have their own conference style corporate banners. Well practiced and with plenty of talent and musicianship – all wandering baselines and slide guitar – they can flip between styles with ease.
So who was our Jeff Buckley tonight? Difficult to say when they were all so good. Get ready to boast at a dinner party in few years.