Tonight sees me on a rare trip to one of York’s smallest ticketed venues to see a headline act that grabbed my attention a few weeks back when he supported Blackbeard’s Tea Party. The Basement, situated under the City Screen cinema, was reduced to standing room only as a reasonably impressive (and, as was mentioned a couple of times during the evening, very polite) crowd were treated to four acts for the measly entry price of a fiver.
First up was Antonio Panzera a young man with a guitar whose playing style and vocals somehow evoked a nostalgic image of an old wireless. Their was a sort of old-fashioned quality to his performance that I could quite put my finger on. The songs themselves were, in general, short and sweet and, to me, not really classifiable – a hint of country on a couple, perhaps, the rest slightly quirky in a nice way. His vocals were clear, with slight changes of tone throughout the set and, while all the songs were definitely “his” there was enough variation to keep the set from sounding samey. Antonio is a man of few words, rarely introducing his songs but thanking the audience between them and it was only with the final, eleventh, song of his short (in terms of time) set that he became more loquacious, explaining that his capo normally falls off during this song. Initially, given what had come before, it was hard to imagine why that would happen but, given the frantic strumming and fingers flying across the frets right next to the capo, it soon became apparent and it would perhaps have been more accurate to say that it often got knocked off. Luckily, this time, the capo survived.
Antonio had provided a nice start to the evening, but Zac Pajak really made me take notice. He started his set, appropriately enough, with one of the first songs he wrote, referred to simply as “the harmonica one” and there was an Americana feel to it. The harmonica was ditched for I’m With You, a song which Zac looked too young (he’s a stone’s throw off twenty but you wouldn’t know it to look at him) to be singing, with its references to being drunk and having his clothes removed by a woman. Strangely, the song’s abrupt ending almost seemed to take him by surprise as much as it did the audience. A cover of Wonderwall (Oasis) was, quite simply, brilliant – stripped back to just vocals and acoustic guitar and somehow sounding slower than the original it was no less effective and, if anything, vocally more emotional. Another cover followed, this time The Stereophonics’ Dakota, before he returned to his own songs. Rest Assured was, in style, more chart botherer than Americana but no less listenable for it. I’m fairly sure he introduced the next song as a cover, one he had only been learning in the preceding week, but I didn’t hear what it was. The snatches of lyrics I noted are leading me towards Ben Howard’s Keep Your Head Up, but I’m not as certain of that as I am that, whatever it was, it was sung beautifully. This set finished with Zac’s newest song – Sunshine – which was both simple and ambitious at the same time, lovely overall and almost haunting in places.
Next up were Busk ‘til Dawn who, as their name suggests, are a busking band comprising of (according to their Facebook page, which was created on the same ay as this gig…) Toby Burras, Toby Domoney and Beth McCarthy. Their set was made up completely of covers, starting with Chaka Kahn’s Ain’t Nobody which immediately showcased their great vocal harmonies and tight guitar playing and gave a nice interpretation of the song. OutKast’s Hey Ya followed and there was a lot of personality in the performance, with the stage area being brightened by Beth’s huge bright smiles. I knew You Were Trouble (Taylor Swift?) wasn’t helped by a misbehaving microphone stand which mean that one of the Tobys was constantly having to adjust his position to sing into it, while Teenage Dirtbag, introduced as one of those songs you can’t help admitting to liking, was punctuated with humorous sound effects. I doubt that The Red Hot Chilli Pepper’s Californication and I’ll Be There For You by The Rembrandts are often played back to back, but they were tonight. Before their final song, Biffy Clyro’s Justboy – the only “serious”song the band play – one of the Tobys ended up begging for somebody to take the mic off him, after advertising that the band were available for birthdays, weddings and, bizarrely, funerals, much to the amusement of the audience. The overall impression that I got from this set was of a band who enjoy doing what they do, nice slightly off-the-wall interpretations of songs that I (mostly) knew and that they are a band that if you did see busking you would probably stop and take notice.
Apparently Andy Doonan turned down an invitation to take part in this year’s series of The Voice UK. As an outsider and only a peripheral viewer of the program, I’m in two minds about that – good on him for having the conviction to plough his own furrow but I suspect he would have done quite well on it. When I saw Andy performing at The Duchess a few weeks ago, my first thought was that his voice reminded me of somebody else. It still does, I still can’t place it and it’s still great, clear and full of emotion. Playing pretty much the same set as at the Duchess, just mixed up slightly, he opened with the brilliant single Here You Are (available as a free download here) and, if anything, the smaller venue made his vocals sound even better than at The Duchess. Remember The City Lights sees Sam “he plays about ten instruments” Smith move from keyboard to guitar while Andy himself provides harmonica parts for the song. Backing vocals during covers of The Killers’ Mr Brightside and Kings Of Leon’s Be Somebody are provided by Ellie Parker and Andy’s brother Joe. Ellie also provides some lovely backing vocals during Right Now, which also sees Sam playing a nice, increasingly intricate guitar line. Jenny is a really nice song, with great layered vocals from Andy, Joe and Sam eventually being joined, once again, by Ellie. It’s a shame this one was dropped due to time constraints last time out. Stumbling was once again introduced as a “happy, sad song” and again features Andy and Joe’s great vocal harmonies. The rest of the band took a breather during Bullet, a brand new song just two weeks old. While the backing vocals of the other songs add layers, this one shows that Andy can more than hold his own. The gentle guitar of the start eventually builds to something more powerful but never overpowers his vocals. Sam returned to second guitar duties for the more upbeat Hometown before Andy switched to keyboards for Sky On Fire, another of his soft-rock ballads and, arguably, the song with the fullest sound. Andy launches his new EP at The Duchess on the 10th of August – sadly a date I can’t make, otherwise I would definitely be there.