Miriam Ast & Victor Gutierrez

26 September
The Lescar

The Back Room in The Lescar is the kind of small, intimate space where you’d imagine a jazz night to take place even if you’d never been to one, making it the perfect setting for duo Miriam Ast and Victor Gutierrez, as well as the group’s special addition, Matt Anderson.

‘Spanish Song’ was the track to introduce the audience to the group’s style. Written by Gutierrez, upon hearing and seeing the vibrant and steadily-paced piece being performed it became clear what kind of superb artists Ast and Gutierrez are. As well as the music being all-round delightful, it was fascinating to see how the performers encouraged and responded to each other while playing, a feature of their performance that continued throughout the night. It showed a human quality, but it was also a physical acknowledgement of how much work had gone into the music’s composition, particularly during their performance of ‘Ode to a Lost Love’.

Matt Anderson isn’t a permanent member of the group, but following some of his performances it was difficult to imagine Ast and Gutierrez playing without him, especially during ‘Love Song’. Miriam Ast is excellent at using her voice as a multi-layered instrument, notably on the warming ‘Alone Together’, while her own arrangement, ‘Divergence’, was one of the most upbeat and enjoyable performances of the night. If there was a spine running throughout the night then undoubtedly it was Victor Gutierrez, whose performance on every track didn’t waiver and who was especially enjoyable on his arrangement 'Come Back to Me', as well as on the group’s version of Thelonious Monk’s ‘Round Midnight’.

Miriam Ast and Victor Gutierez are an act worthy of all the accolades they have attracted, delivering a performance that was enclosed, personal, and most importantly, unforgettable.

Akeem Balogun

Sneers / Ben Vince

22 September
Audacious Art Experiment

The Audacious Art Space is a no-frills experience, where DIY meets DGAF. It’s hard to discern punters from promoters from players, because everyone is filling at least two of those roles, maybe more. I myself take a short stint on the door, accompanied by a security gourd (no, not a typo).

First up are local psych-onauts Naguals, who I’ve praised in these pages before, and will do so again. Next it’s noisenik three-piece Sleep Terminal, presumably named for what you do when your flight into Manchester is delayed and you miss your train home. Polished they ain’t, but energetic they is, and while they only have two basic song types so far - a fast one and a not-so-fast one - they get maximum mileage from them.

Sneers sound like a Euro-death-folk clone of Swans fronted by the ghost of Nico impersonating Grace Slick, all gloomy vocal vibrato and one-chord guitar riffs. Sleep Terminal may only have two songs, but that’s one more than Sneers appear to have brought with them. Maybe they got burned on their baggage allowance?

Hamer (pronounced 'hammer', apparently) are a Leeds trio who play very noisy garage psych very, very quickly. Someone suggests to me that I should write that Hamer totally smashed it. I tell him he’s hit the nail on the head.

Last act on is oddball synths-and-saxophonist Ben Vince, but I’m already in a 2am taxi home before he takes the stage. If his skronking’s as loud as his thrift-store threads, I’ll bet everyone went home deaf.

Paul Graham Raven

JONO

22 September
Edisons

It was the busiest Saturday in Sheffield I can recall. A friend had offered me tickets to see Arctic Monkeys and the streets of the city centre were heaving with revellers, but I don’t find my home among the crowds of West Street or the arena. I prefer a secluded spot, seeing musicians playing a small room above a pub.

So I found myself attending JONO’s EP launch party in a room not above a pub, but above Edisons coffee shop on York Street. That’s not to say this was a quiet and subdued affair. The new EP is titled A Celebration, so it was fitting that balloons, colourful hats and party poppers were included in the price of admission.

A celebration is what it turned out to be. The room was filled with people singing along to songs about sex, drinking, drinking too much, desperation and self-care. JONO’s songs regularly touch on the darker corners of the human condition, but are delivered with positivity, awareness and introspection, wrapped up in guitar music tinged with blues, funk and folk sensibilities. With a performance that commanded the room, JONO looked delighted to be delivering his music to the crowd and that feeling was infectious.

You just cannot help but feel good when watching a performance like this. At one point he declared the best things in life to be “love, dancing and wine”, and all three were abundant tonight. I left with a grin on my face. I was drenched in the paper innards of party poppers, adorned with a shiny hat and a feeling of being part of a wonderful celebration.

Mark McIntosh

Photo by CXG Media

Tsarzi

14 September
Yellow Arch

The venue for the launch of Tsarzi’s debut album is undeniably apt. Yellow Arch is both grungy and intimate, a homely cave snuggled between an interior of cold stone walls and soft, warm lighting flowing from the stage. Support acts Banjo Jen and I Set The Sea On Fire warm the crowd up with two sets of different but equally lively music, playing atmospheric, country-inspired banjo tunes and loud, slightly angsty funk rock respectively.

Tsarzi is the solo project of multi-instrumentalist Sarah Sharp and Last Decade of Love is a self-proclaimed ode to those ‘terrible relationship decisions’ that are often a product of the confusing period of our twenties and thirties. Much of the album is both touching and darkly humorous, and seeing Tsarzi play live brings these emotions alive. Songs like 'Egomaniac', an infectious pop ballad incorporating a frenzied melange of bouncing synth lines and soulful keys, blend effortlessly with tunes like 'Mr Cryptic Crossword', with its delicate baroque harpsichord and looming crescendos of deep bass.

Sharp’s vocal range is impressive, both in volume and pitch, and swells atmospherically in sync with the music, sending melodious waves rippling out across the room. From opera to lullaby, 'Down To The Sea' creates a beautiful, melancholy image of remembered holidays in rundown seaside towns. At times, it feels like we are hushed in anticipation, waiting expectantly for the next billow of nostalgia to crash overhead.

The show ends on ‘The Brian Song’, a tale about an imaginary man going through a terrible divorce. Beginning with a brief rendition of Mendelssohn’s wedding march, the melody quickly descends into loud, but fun, riffy pop rock, with plenty of glitter thrown around.

Noah Martin

Photo by CXG Media