It’s been a while since I’ve seen a gig at Stereo. The last time I was here (in fact, the last two times) I was pretty much the only person in the audience and, I have to say, I was a little worried tonight – with just minutes to go before the gig was due to start and there was only me, one of the acts, the soundman and one other person loitering about. Thankfully, the addition of a few chairs and tables, as well as quite a few more punters, made the venue look reasonably full by the time the first act took to the stage.
Tonight is a free-entry acoustic showcase, a mix of acts I have seen before, ones I’ve heard of and one that I haven’t come across at all. Elliot Matthew Partridge is the latter and, I’ll be honest, he didn’t do a great deal with me. It’s not that his six song set was particularly bad, just that none of the songs grabbed me. For me, there were germs of promise in Moon Pies And Penny Whistles, We Are The Sons and something previously by Don’t Let Paris Fool You – a band that Elliot used to be guitarist in until recently. Unfortunately, I found the stories between the songs just the wrong side of irrelevant to the performance. It was almost as though he just wanted to get things that had annoyed him off his chest in front of an audience and that, as well as a propensity for slightly crude in-jokes with friends in the audience, distracted too much from the music for my liking. Sorry, Elliot.
Next up was Alice Ostapjuk, who I have seen perform solo before but who, apparently, now plays mostly with a band. Alice rails against the seemingly small things in life, using music and humour as her weapons. Incredibly the room was near-silent as Alice started her set with Samuel’s Secret and Love Game, a song inspired by Motown and Diana Ross (who is obviously a favourite as, just like last time I saw her, the set included a very different cover of a Diana Ross song – Where Did Our Love Go?, I think…). Her sisters playing of R&B songs inspired the aptly titled R&B Song, the lyrics of which were brilliantly humorous, blaming the genre for a large number of life’s ills. Kiss Me Better was followed by Paper Planes And Shooting Stars, another song I had heard last time out and one that most people seemed to know well enough to join in the clapping section. Finally, we got the first solo outing for Rage Against The Tangerine, another song that takes aim at the downside of some people’s lives, in this case the “perfect” girls at school, without being too serious about it. This was another interesting and enjoyable support slot from the young songwriter.
Johnny Gill was, I believe, a late replacement for Marck (Marbled) Whiley, who had to pull out due to ear problems. I knew his name, but hadn’t seen him perform before. It was, perhaps, appropriate, given his slight stature, that he started with I Was Never A Giant, a nice song played in an intricate and slightly mesmerising finger-picking style. Thieves Amongst Honour was followed by the wonderful Wolves And Waves, during which Jonny effortlessly switched between quiet and near-shouting vocal styles. Made Of Glass was a cover (I don’t remember if we were told who did it originally) and, again, featured great vocals but for me the best song of the set was something that might have been called Worst Things Happen At Sea. With just enough time to squeeze in two songs, Jonny failed to introduce the first, but finished with Friday Night Lights. A nice mix of songs, and a great voice complemented by some excellent music. Definitely an act I will be looking out for again.
I still haven’t managed to catch Mantra live, but I have seen frontman Oli Stevens-Vallecillo and guitarist Catherine Redfern perform acoustically once before. Tonight they are joined by James Fletcher, whose shiny electric bass looked just a touch out of place and seemed to be to be too loud in the mix for the early part of the set. Mixing Country and Western covers from the likes of Neal McCoy and Alan Jackson (Midnight In Montgomery) with what I assume were acoustic versions of Mantra songs such as Counting My Reasons and Always Drive Alone, provided for a varied set which was further enhanced by the use of effects pedals, some incredibly tight playing by the two guitarists and, on one song, a bottle neck playing style. Oli’s voice is superb, a kind of rich Southern drawl without coming across as too laid back and the backing vocals from Catherine were lovely. I doubt that this is what they sound like as a full band and one day I’m going to have to find out.
Finally, with the time already past the advertised finish (and with a cold bike ride home ahead of me), Boss Caine, in his now seemingly usual solo guise, took to the stage. Dan/G.T./Boss is probably my favourite acoustic act in York. Most of his songs are now so familiar that I can pretty much mime (you don’t want to hear me sing) along to the them, much as whoever was standing behind me could (only louder and more in tune) and it was nice to see people hanging around to see his set. Too many times when I have seen him opening for another act or performing in a crowded pub and, in both cases, having to try to punch through the ambient noise. Tonight’s crowd was certainly more appreciative and while Dan made light of his apparent miserablist reputation, it was also a pleasure to see him having a laugh on stage during his set. Opening with the brilliant and sombre Ghosts And Drunks he then treated us to the more uplifting duo of A Kind Of Loving and Dead Man’s Suit and then a new song which, if he did tell us it, I missed the title of. It was back to the slightly downbeat with Be My Grievous Angel, a tribute to Graham Parsons, and Sweet Sorrow Surrender before taking an audience request for Murder On My Mind for his final song.
Overall this was a great night of acoustic music. Maybe such a showcase should be a regular or semi-regular Stereo event, with rotating, varied acts. I’d certainly be up for more nights like it.