Sunday, 26 February 2012

Poetry and pose. The People The Poet live at The Lexington

The People The Poet***1/2**
Rob Lynch*1/2****
Tom Jenkins*****
Greta Isaac**1/2***

The Lexington, London, 24th February 2012

All a bit mysterious tonight. Didn’t really know what to expect. Having seen Tiger Please a couple of times before and, on the strength of their excellent EP Seasons, I was looking forward to some boisterous, intelligent and melodic pop rock.

But the new name/side project obfuscation was bewildering me. Who or what were The People The Poet going to be? A side project? New members? Some people? A poet? Anyway, before whatever or whoever they were/are/going to be, there were three acts on the bill to slurp at and sample first.

Greta Isaac**1/2***
A tiny, pretty unbelievably young looking wee blonde lassie dwarfed by her guitar meandered onto the stage. No intro, no messing, she started to pick at the behemoth of an instrument and popped open a delicious, beautiful and delightful voice to cascade over the assembled onlookers.

Young Gun
She continued with a wonderful coyness and little girl charm and reeled of half a dozen or so very palatable and tasty songs. But, sadly there is nothing new here. Having hung around with and been involved with the folky/acoustic scene for many years, I must’ve seen and heard a million Greta Isaacs. Don’t get me wrong, her voice is totally beautiful. Her songs, if not light on refrains or memorable choruses, are perfectly quaffable. But she’s not from the special cellar or the locked cabinet. Nor, to be fair, is she a commoditised and bland screw-top from the special offer chiller. Somewhere in between.

There are hints of Carole King, Carly Simon, Eva Cassidy and obvious James Taylor influences, but nothing jaw-dropping or revolutionary. She's no Charlene Soraia. Saying that, for someone so apparently young, it’s marvellous to hear such beautiful tones and neatly crafted songs without pretention or indie contrivances.

Tom Jenkins*****
Next up was the front man of Welsh tyros, Straight Lines. There are good things being said about Straight Lines, and having sampled their hooky, vibrant and buoyant poprock on a couple of previous occasions, I was looking forward to seeing what Jenkins would serve up without his noisy buddies.

He plonked his bum onto an upturned monitor cab and launched into a strum fest all topped off with a powerful, engaging and original fabulous voice.
The tunes were characteristically catchy, well-constructed and bouncy. The crowd joined in from time-to-time and the vibe was good. Yeah verily.

But true acoustic music this was not. Jenkins’ guitar playing is clearly more suited to a plugged in, turbocharged dropped D Telecaster rather than a wooden, holey cousin. I’m not up to speed on Straight Lines’ whole canon, but I assume that at least some of tonight’s tunes being aired are the band’s property (I definitely recognised the anthemic and top tune Half Gone among the set). So the whole thing had more of an unplugged feeling rather than anything specifically acoustically re-worked. There was no finger-picking, no contrasting twiddly bits or even a hint of an arpeggio. Just power chords and strumming.

But that didn’t matter. I’m being a purist nob. It was all good.

The young lad from the Principality did a fine job. Even alluding more than a couple of times to his limited style – ‘I would have played a John Mayer cover set’, he said chirpily, ‘but he doesn’t use enough power chords’. True dat. His characteristic Straight Lines vocal phrasing and oft contorted pronunciation aside, he delivered a truly enjoyable, crowd pleasing set, ending with a big sing a long cover of Dan Mangan’s Robots. Expect big things of Straight Lines. But don’t expect to see Mr Jenkins at The Cambridge folk festival or rubbing shoulders with John Smith, John Renbourn or Wizz Jones. Great stuff though.

Rob Lynch*1/2****

Blond. Tall. Holds his guitar up high. Shouts. Blimey. Let’s get the lame comparison out the way first, Rob Lynch sounds like Frank Turner. There, I said it. Well, he does. And that’s undeniable. His phrasing, melody and strummy style are all undoubtedly from the same gene pool as Mr Turner. And he’s just sold out Wembley. Lynch won’t be though.

Seems like a nice bloke. But after being ranted and shouted at by his high-octane, excitable delivery, I felt I’d been set upon by a pub drunk who wouldn’t let it lie arguing about the merits of his team’s 4-4-2 system or how shit the health service is and, no matter how much you agree or smile knowingly, he just carries on ranting and poking you in the chest. Aaaaarghh!

Without doubt, he’s got charisma and some decent tunes. Especially the set-closer and Alex Baker favoured My Friends and I. His lyrics are personal, engaging and contemporary(if not a bit clunky at times). But the delivery doesn’t hit the spot form me. It’s relentless. And wearing. No light and shade. Just full-on. Not necessarily angry. Just in your face. With spit. Not edgy. But on the edge.

Lynch...The Proclaimer
I couldn’t help thinking throughout, that all that was missing was another Lynch next to him, thick glasses. Scottish accent. Then we’d have something. No, wait a minute…

So, the time was upon us. The mystery about to be revealed. People The Poet , whatever and whoever they are, are in da house.

The People The Poet***1/2**
There’s lots of kit on stage. Lots. More guitars than in Andy’s guitar shop's window. Lots of mics. A backline that looked like downtown Manhattan. And there were now lots of people in the room.

Then ‘they’ all started coming out. Blokes with guitars, girls with violins, jugglers, trapeze artists, fire eaters and Belgian midget contortionists. Ok, I lied about the jugglers. And the trapeze artists. Oh, and the Belgian midget contortionists. Sadly. But there were violins. It was like the beginning of a parents’ evening recital by the school orchestra.

So we had the people. What about the poet?

Well, the imposing and impressive figure of front man Leon Sanford, complete with one of those fey Middle eastern Arafat neck scarves and a protest camp crusty haircut bowled onto the stage. And we were off.

A delay-ridden U2esque intro soon kicks off into a full, rousing nu-country ho down. Sanford’s gruff and Cocker-like delivery cajoles, insights and delights the jigging pack down the front. Smiles all round.

all together now...yee haarrr
It’s difficult to know what the motivation or reasons are to shift from a standard 5 piece to a ramshackle, jug band collective, but it seems churlish to question. The result is an interesting and heady mix of Simple Minds, Elbow, Arcade Fire, Counting Crows and, well, a ramshackle, jug band collective. With a bit of Canterbury or the late, lamented Francesqa thrown in as a contemporary livener. It soon becomes clear that Tiger Please are no more, and from now on, the new expanded ensemble will be known as People The Poet. So that's cleared up.

Sanford is a born front man and his lyrics, confronting themes of addiction, suicide, death, the arse of modern life are considered, poetic and thought-provoking. But the overall feeling is a bit like chucking everything in the fridge into a sandwich and hoping it’ll taste ok.

The strings don’t add an awful lot. But maybe that’s because they are there on every song (and catastrophically out of tune on at least three or four of the numbers tonight). If they were used more sparingly and dramatically, then maybe the balance would be more defined, flavoursome and ultimately tastier.

Not that I don’t like what we’re being served. In fact, far from it. The flavours work beautifully at times. It just needs a dollop more control. It’s obviously early days and they need to harness the accidental combinations and replicate them; without being mannered or predictable. There are genuine spine-tingling moments. Joyous harmonies. And, with the addition half way through the set of the delightful ethereal Greta Isaac, real depth and refreshing counterpoint. And in the song People, a clever, engaging skiffly vocal syncopation that wouldn’t be out of place in a West End musical. But in a good way.

The performance throughout is clever, entertaining and emotional. The band have gathered stories from friends and fans and used them to paint a kind of sociological portrait of the state of the nation for their up coming album. And tonight, they exhibit some of the work. And it’s very special. There are true echoes of Coldplay in the song Stabilisers. Big hooks with subtle phrasing and cadence. For me, it’s the highlight of the set.

Sanford rambles a bit. He wears his heart on his ample sleeve. He does funny little dances and gestures, banging his heart and giving it the full Marcel Marceau schtick at times (he even apologises for it halfway through calling himself a bellend). His voice, while not in the Bruno Mars or Dan Lancaster category makes the most of what it is. Spiralling falsetto neatly contrasted with big, gruff, ursine roars and bellows. He reminds me of Adam Duritz. All emotion and improv, with the ability to get totally lost in the moment. Without being a wanker.

Overall, despite the tuning issues, the over-done delay-ridden guitar pads and the slight identity issues, we have witnessed a truly original and exciting work in progress. I understand they’re about to head out on tour with Charlie Simpson, so will reach a well-deserved wider audience.

On the evidence of tonight’s performance, we’re all going to see a lot more of The People the Poet. Thankfully without the Belgian midget contortionist.

The crackingly boisterous Real Adventures and Hold Your Horse Is next. 

More tunes soon, Bwoooar!

Oh, before I go, here's something genius: I was thrilled to bits to get hold of the latest ep from Mike and The Gambler's (ex of the unbelievable and incomparable Oceansize) new project, British Theatre. Have a listen to it. It's stunning. Can't wait for the full album.

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