Rachel Sermanni

16 November
Shakespeares

David J Roch has been performing in bands and as a solo act for over a decade now. Sadly, he announces tonight that this is likely to be the last time he plays Sheffield for the foreseeable future as he's calling it a day. It's a damn shame that such a good songwriter, and someone with an incredible voice and vocal range, hasn’t experienced greater success. As you'd expect, with the ink on his second album only just drying, the set contains several newer songs, but given the circumstances, there are also some old favourites thrown in. He's not going out quietly either, and having seen David countless times over the years, this is up there with his best performances. There's even a new song, which for me is the highlight of the set. Make it a break and not a finale, eh?

Ideas on a Postcard have transformed the Bard's Bar in Shakespeares into a cosy haven, the perfect setting for Rachel Sermanni to flourish. This is the third time I've had the pleasure of seeing her live and each time has been magical. Rachel is the most exciting and talented British singer-songwriter to emerge on the folk scene since Laura Marling. As well as being in possession of a beautiful and versatile voice, she's an accomplished musician and subtle lyricist.

Tonight she is accompanied by Jen Austin on keys and Colin MacLeod on pedal steel guitar, and what a performance it is. The audience hang on her every word. It's a set of delicate and enticing songs which spring from every corner of her brain, from busking in Amsterdam to stumbling across a lonely tractor in a field. The highlight is a rendition of ‘Easy Way Out’ with MacLeod which left me with slightly damp eyes. The most exciting thing about Rachel Sermanni is that she just keeps getting better and tonight has been my favourite gig of the year.

Rob Aldam

Kate Tempest

8 November
Plug

I hadn't realised there were still people making hip hop like Clubs & Spades. It's a very agreeable surprise. In an age where one could be mistaken for thinking rap was all about making mumbled references to the Illuminati while promoting your own range of bespoke Cartier jewellery, it's a fine thing to hear rhymes about cheap drinks in plastic cups, or trying (and failing) to impress girls at raves. This isn’t to say these lads are cuddly Daisy Age nice guys or that they don't big themselves up some, but the tales they tell are rooted firmly in the workaday experience of their native Sheffield, as are their voices. These lads don't kick ass, they kick arse.

Kate Tempest lives up to her nom-de-rhyme, blowing onto the stage in a whirlwind of energy and passion, totally caught up in the culmination of a decade spent chasing her dream, paying her dues at rap battles and poetry nights alike. It's hard to make out her intricate lyrics through the thick production, but the basics come across thanks to her sheer intensity. She's more a storyteller than a rapper in that she's rarely her own subject, and her stories give voices to the voiceless - the poor, the desperate, the failed and the failures. In that respect, she's everything I felt The Streets tried and ultimately failed to be to the British underclass experience. Where Skinner retreated behind laddish irony, Tempest leads with empathy and doesn't stop swinging.

Personally I'd have preferred to have heard a full spoken word set, but if this club-oriented experience means more kids discovering not only that girls can rhyme, but can rhyme about a world they recognise and encourage them to believe in themselves, then that's a storm worth weathering, I reckon.

Paul Raven

Shield Patterns

12 November
Rocking Chair

If you've been to The Rocking Chair, you'll know they put gigs on in their jazzy basement function room, which works surprisingly well for Shield Patterns' dark, electronic sound and even darker atmospheric performance.

Support act Phoneutrian unleashes soft, ambient tunes which collide with heavy hip hop beats, conjuring up laptop/launchpad masters like Flying Lotus. The first song progresses into the second with eerie cathedral keys met by whooping bird noises, before the unexpected beat drops again. As the seamless set continues, it's easy to fall into a trance and lose all track of space and time. He finishes with a track featuring samples of echoing vocals and muffled bass that somehow manages not to dent the delicate nature of the vocals and warm sounds beneath. This basement may be close to empty, but if there is any justice, this Sheffield-based producer will be packing out larger venues in no time.

Red spotlights point at Shield Patterns, a duo of Richard Knox and Claire Brentnall, piercing the pitch-black darkness of the stage. Knox hits an electronic drum, whilst Brentnall pours out ghostly, reverbating vocals and it's as though Massive Attack and Kate Bush are performing inside a haunted tardis. Vocals are joined by boom-clap drums on 'Dust', and a new track from their album, Contour Lines, makes Brentnall's voice sound like she is falling down a well, yet there is a dose of optimism with Zero 7 style keys, reminiscent of their album, Simple Things. Like Phoneutrian, there are also Burial-esque moments, like creepy samples of a man coughing, but Shield Patterns are not afraid to strip back to simpler piano, vocals and clarinet solos for a mesmerising, sinister end to their set.      

Phoebe Seymour

Hey Sholay

29 November
Picture House Social

What better band to revive this venue than the psychedelic Hey Sholay. Since the release of their album, ((O)), in 2012 and wowing crowds at Tramlines Festival's main stage in 2013, Hey Sholay have been keeping a low profile, but finally they're back and judging by tonight's sold out gig, they've been missed.

Support band Two Skies come from the heavy yet smooth side of rock 'n' roll, with their fuzzy, echoing guitars similar to Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. By the third song, the lead guitarist and vocalist holds his guitar against an amp until it screeches like a creature from another planet.

The keyboard player and lead vocalist of electronic group Modo Stare hovers over the keyboard shaking, whilst a percussionist jumps around, shaking a tambourine and harmonising with him. 'Wake Up Telescope' is the most danceable song, and as the bass drops, the percussionist runs into the crowd and spins around, arms wide out. Modo Stare are half Arcade Fire, half Imagine Dragons, with all the energy of a Haribo-fuelled child.

Hey Sholay treat us to a number of new songs in front of a hypnotising screen of kaleidoscope patterns, before exciting the crowd with the familiar ticking sound of 'Burning', but with a new twist. Whilst it’s great to hear a chilled version, it’s disappointing not to hear the pounding, thrashing chorus of the original. But all is forgiven with the catchy 'Wishbone', as the whole room shouts, “So, don't ever leave me now!” They end with 'The Bears, The Clocks, The Bees', which builds to such chaotic heights that no song could possibly follow. Hey Sholay are back and better than ever.

Phoebe Seymour