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Folk Forest / Mark Wynn / Off The Record / Wet Nuns.

by Now Then Sheffield

30th November.
Greystones.

Reviewer - Rob Aldam.

With the dark nights drawing in and the temperature beginning to plummet, the good people at The Folk Forest decided to throw a little Winter Warm Up Festival at The Greystones. The opening night's line-up was pretty special.

Laura J Martin has built up a loyal following over recent years, be it playing on her own or with a variety of musical friends. Tonight, armed with just a flute, mandolin and loop box for company, she plays a liberal selection of songs from her debut album, the highlights being 'Spy', 'Fire Horse' and 'Salamander'.

She also has a selection of new songs to play for us, with the ingenious 'Red Flag' (including inspired use of "Red Indian" percussion) standing out. Moving behind a keyboard, she is joined by her sister Hannah on clarinet for 'The Lesson' and 'Hold It Dear'. It would seem that Laura is looking to expand her repertoire, adding an extra dimension to her music, which will undoubtedly open up new avenues for her in the future. On this evidence, she deserves every success.

The backroom has a cosy, homely feel as Jonny Kearney and Lucy Farrell take to the stage. There is a sparkle and naturalness between them that is both beguiling and refreshing. It's like watching an uncomfortable teen being told off by his disapproving yet slightly amused and tolerant older sister. You could almost be sitting in your living room, such is the feeling of bonhomie in the venue.

They play a mixture of songs from the North Farm Sessions EP and their debut album Kite, also throwing in a few traditional songs such as the beautiful 'Hares on the Mountain'. The quality of the songwriting and musicianship is plain for all to see, their voices working in beautiful harmony, often threatening to bring a tear to the eye. Jonny's songs are crystalline gems of kitchen sink dramas, so delicate and fragile, threatening to evaporate on touch. 'Down in Adairsville' and 'Just Like the Old Days' are strong calling cards, showcasing the duo's subtle blend of traditional and contemporary folk.

They finish with a sing-along, before coming back out for an encore of 'Stand-up Show'. Very rarely am I fortunate enough to go to a gig where everything is perfect, but tonight was one of those occasions. It has been an evening to melt even the coldest heart.

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30th November.
Shakespeare's.

Reviewer - Paul Robson.

Friday 30th November was a cold and crisp evening enlivened by a selection of quality ales and a group of songwriting troubadours. At Shakespeare's in the downstairs bar people were enjoying a pint, but upstairs you could hear musicians such as William Barstow, Huw Costin and York singer-songwriter Mark Wynn. Watched by an ample and enthusiastic crowd, they stood on a small and dimly lit stage. This did not detract from the music but instead heightened the atmosphere. It felt more like a songwriters' séance than a regular gig.

William Barstow began the gig with tales of love, loss, death, suicide and attempted murder. They may not sound like light-hearted topics, but combined with a seductive mix of folk, pop and rockabilly they captivated the audience. Even more impressive were his honest vocals, filled with emotion, and his rousing cover version of 'That's Alright' by Arthur Cudrup.

William Barstow was followed by Huw Costin, who in the past has worked with Brian Eno. The songs Costin performed showed an influence of Brian Eno's ambient music in their soft beauty and subtlety. He managed to convey melancholic lyrics with feeling, but there was very little change in rhythm, which diluted the dynamism and vigour of the music.

The night culminated with Mark Wynn, who cut a manic mixture of Bob Dylan and John Cooper Clarke, delivering a rapid torrent of lyrics wrapped in a thick York accent. Mark Wynn's songs are unashamedly upfront about sex, drugs, boredom and reservations about turning into his dad. His half-speaking half-singing technique is vaguely reminiscent of rock veteran Lou Reed. Stopping to crack sarcastic quips between and sometimes during songs, some may find Mark Wynn an acquired taste. This did lend the performance little continuity, but his humour and irrepressible energy kept the patrons engrossed.

Although all the artists performing were acoustic songwriters, each one had their own distinct sound and personality. Overall the crowd were lucky enough to hear great songwriting expressed with passion and honesty.

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15th December.
Plug.

Reviewer - Tasha Franek.

Queuing up for the Plug in Baltic conditions as swarms of half-dressed girls in heels tottered past me brought a strange kind of fresher's nostalgia to the start of my night, but from time to time the Plug pull out a real cracker.

Off The Record is a brand new night, presented by the brilliant Renegade Brass Band. The idea is to bring in some of the best bands in jazz, funk, soul, reggae and hip-hop from across the UK, alongside live DJs and all kinds of independent, up-and-coming 'creatives'. The opening night brought Jungle Lion, without a doubt Sheffield's finest dub, ska and reggae band, DJs Paulo (Thirsty Ear) and Zxodiac, live graffiti in the smoking area and of course Renegade headlining the whole affair. After wrestling my way to the bar and then back into the bustling crowd, I was ready to get my skank on.

I've seen Jungle Lion perform in many settings, from a local pub in Crookes to the Don Valley Bowl, where they played alongside Toots and the Maytals at Sheftival. Always enthusiastic, always dressed in signature two-tone and always an absolute treat to watch, the 12-piece instantly got the whole crowd moving, putting their own spin on a host of familiar tracks like 'Monkey Man', 'Too Hot' and my favourite cover of '54-46 Was My Number' to finish. A little glitch during an intro was styled out with laughter and improv, which only led the whole crowd to fall a little bit more in love with them.

With the atmosphere set, it was time for the headliners to step up. Another stage full of instruments, this time with a little more attitude and a hip hop vibe from MC V3xation and DJ Krook Kid, Renegade Brass Band were fantastic. The crowd participation was a perfect reflection of the stage presence that they upheld, as once again everybody moved along and got involved, especially during 'Nah Mean, Nah M Sayin'. Another band that makes me terrifically proud of living in Sheffield, they're cutting edge and put the most amazing spin on hip hop, jazz and funk.

The two DJs tied the night up nicely and kept the place buzzing until the early hours, with all of the vibes that Off The Record promotes. I'm incredibly excited to see what the new year has in store for everybody involved and I can't wait to get down to the next one. I strongly recommend you do too.

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18th December.
Harley.

Reviewer - Alan Byatt.

Wet Nuns describe themselves as "an undead two piece, power-death-punk band, which make middle-of-the-road dad rock songs about mainly women or death, or women and death". At The Harley, the Yorkshire duo try to sum up the above statement, as they rasp and roar their way through electrifying, primitive, blues rock, lost in a sea of loyal fans fashioning the iconic Wet Nuns t-shirt.

Support comes from grimy, hardcore punk band Dry Heaves, along with stirring duo The Hangnails, who thrash their way through a set of razor-sharp, lo-fi garage-blues-rock 'n' roll, recollecting early Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and Death From Above 1979.

Wet Nuns consist of vocalist/guitarist Rob Graham and drummer/vocalist Alexis Gotts, who together seize a complete, solid and unswerving sound. Graham's gritty guitar lines slice through the speakers, and Gotts pounds the drums with the aggression of Jim Morrison in prohibition, while sharing vocal duties with equally coarse voices. The two-piece also offer something in the way of infectious humour, punk aesthetics and dubious stage props (in the form of severed feet and broken skulls), which only sit as a side offering, as they need no help hammering their ramshackle rock 'n' roll into the souls of every audience member.

They channel Kyuss and The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion for the dirty stoner rock crowd pleasers 'Throttle' and 'Heavens Below', before testing furious new song 'Broken Teeth' from the upcoming EP of the same name to a more than willing audience. The thrashing renditions of 'Why You So Cold?' and 'All The Young Girls' sound like a pumped-up take on The Cramps with stylings that beckon the souls of 50s blues artists like Howling Wolf and Son House and a twist of Motorhead.

Wet Nuns manage to have loose yet controlled jams with contagious onstage humour and presence. They pack an adrenaline fueled set without once slowing down the pace, and with the new EP ready for release in February 2013, let's hope these recordings can capture the live show. For now, this is how the Wet Nuns should be heard - within the frantic, rousing and stimulating live experience they are working hard to craft.

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by Now Then Sheffield

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