Saturday, 5 October 2013

The First Frost of autumn. Liam Frost Live Review St Pancras Old Church

Liam Frost *****
Norma Jean Martine ***1/2**
Daniel James *****

St Pancras  Old Church, Wednesday 2nd October 2013

A church. A real church. Not deconsecrated or anything. A proper, working bloody church. Gulp. It is with more than a little apprehension that I cross the threshold; fearing my lips blistering, lightening bolts or being turned into a pillar of salt.

But The Big Man's obviously having an off day and I avoid any heavenly punishment and take a proper old-fashioned church seat in this most stunning, dimly lit and atmospheric of venues.

Daniel James *****
First onto the pulpit is London-based Ulsterman Daniel James. Appears to pretty standard singer/songwriter fare to begin with: good looking slightly moody young lad with an acoustic guitar and an almost apologetic air sidles onto stage to no fanfare and kicks off into a perfectly pleasant strummy acoustic song with a cracking voice. All good. All nice. All, well, a bit seen and heard before. 

BUT, the lad has a fiendish trick or two in his wizard's sack. Firstly there's the 21st century equivalent of a string-driven one-man-band kick drum - a pedal which he stomps at with glee to produce a big ol' marching band boom-boom. 

Then, there's another magic pedal/box of tricks which layers delicious vocal harmonies over his voice, from almost tribal woo oos to gospel choir styled depth, which in this house of supposed omniscient being, adds a heavenly, choral and glorious texture to his well constructed and beautifully delivered songs.

Interesting, slick, soulful and lovely stuff.

Norma Jean Martine ***1/2**

For the second reading in this evening's service Stateside chanteuse Norma Jean Martine props herself behind her electric piano altar and kicks off with a very pleasant and beautifully sung pared-down ballad.

Her voice is point-perfect and clean but for me, she does a little too much of 'that thing'. The 'that thing' that I sadly struggle to adequately describe. Ashamed to admit it, I have occasionally watched X-Factor and you know the kooky girls they get every year (Diana Vickers, the other one with the DMs et al), they do 'that thing'. It's like there's a small bubble at the back of the throat which has a restrictive compression on the pronunciation. You know, 'that thing'. And every aspiring young female singer seems to do it, at least a little bit.

Anyway, 'that thing' aside, she certainly puts a good tune together and delivers a frail but strong beauty. After the first tune, she then swaps to a guitar and what looks like a rag-tag assemblage of a super slick jug band joins her on the pulpit. Acoustic guitarist/keys, electric guitarist, percussionist on one of those de rigeur Cajon box thingies, backing singer and a tiny bloke on a massive acoustic bass.

And things get huger. A big sound fills the now packed church. It's kind of nu-country, kind of folky, kind of, well, nice. Thankfully, the ensemble doesn't overpower Martine's delicious voice ('that thing' notwithstanding) and they plough through an engaging, soulful, pleasant set. The songs are good throughout if not a wee bit derivative, but there's enough diversity and dynamic on show to stop it all sounding too samey.

Whether there's enough sustainable difference from the hundreds of similar acts it's difficult to say, but apart from 'that thing' she certainly has got something. And something potentially very special.

Liam Frost *****
So, first and second readings done, it's now time for the main sermon. And a very slim, stylish looking reverend Frost steps up to the altar in front of a now completely packed church (one can't help thinking that the vicar/priest/wizard that calls this place his own wouldn't feel massively jealous at the size of the congregation here tonight - it feels like Songs Of Praise is being filmed in a normally empty parochial church and the whole village have showed up - where were you bastards last week?). 

Anyway, back to the very reverend skinny manc.

I've been a massive fan of Mr Frost from his earliest days as a chubby, emo-looking embarrassed penguin with a floppy fringe and a bottle of Jack in his days with his Slowdown Family in its various line-ups through his session-band accompanied, record company influenced attempts to hit the big time: countrified, americanised and smoothified. But the one thing that has remained consistent is his astonishing honesty, integrity, frailty and amazing songwriting ability.

In the most packed of all possible genres; being a singer/songwriter with an acoustic guitar is the most difficult to achieve 'stand out' - there's nowhere to hide. But Frost stands so far apart from so many of the chasing pack. His songsmithery is delicious, complex, witheringly honest, personal, poetic and original. And tonight, he's at his very, very finest.

His voice is plaintively perfect. His playing clever, at times complex but always soulful. And the combination is mesmerising, captivating and spellbinding. Running through a huge range of songs culled from the very beginning through to brand new delights and even a stunning, goosebump-inducing Sade cover, he just opens up the clear water with the competition more and more with every note he plays and sings. And I have to admit that on several occasions tonight I was genuinely moved to watery eyes and dry throat.

The love struck congregation dine greedily and the effusive reception to every song hopefully shows Liam the love and respect that'll keep him producing such fabulous and gorgeous music long into the future. 

The word needs to be spread. Amen.

1 comment:

  1. I was at the Manchester show last night and can honestly say I have never been moved at a gig in such a way before. I have never seen an audience stay so quiet and pay as much attention to the music. It was completely mesmerising. This was the first time I have seen Liam live but it certainly won't be the last.