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A Magazine for Sheffield

Richard Hawley / WHP / Verity Susman / Benjamin Francis Leftwich.



It's hard writing about Richard Hawley for a publication based in his home town. The man attracts almost unwavering fandom in South Yorkshire. Not without good cause of course, but personally I found his latest offering Standing at the Sky's Edge a bit underwhelming - particularly when laid side by side with the sublime Coles Corner - as did our reviewer in Now Then #50.

Before I continue, however, I should mention the support provided by Irish folk singer Lisa Hannigan, backed by John Smith on guitar and a drummer whose name I forget, but whose playing was equally well-balanced. The performance was filled with subtle, understated, jazz-inflected original folk songs, some taken from Hannigan's most recent album Passenger, culminating in a beautifully hushed adaptation of The Band's 'The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down', dedicated to the late drummer Levon Helm.

Although Hawley's newest record is certainly not my favourite, some of his new tracks sounded really tight in a live setting, particularly one as illustrious as the City Hall's Oval Hall. The set opener and title track 'Standing at the Sky's Edge' packed far more punch than its studio counterpart, and 'Don't Stare At The Sun' glistened with psychedelia, particularly in the melodic chorus. Likewise, 'Leave Your Body Behind You' and 'Down In The Woods', the two singles from the new album, were delivered with real panache by a band who are clearly at the top of their game.

Extended guitar solos can often be a turnoff for me, but coming from such an effortlessly superlative guitarist they are a joy to behold. In between songs he regaled the audience with his opinions on various topics, such as MP3s ('the technical equivalent of fuck all') and his early life growing up in the city ('I'm still just a speccy lad from Pitsmoor').

Other highlights included the mellow 'Remorse Code' and, after a standing ovation, the double encore of 'Water Boy', a cover of a Paul Robeson song that he dedicated to his grandfather, and 'The Ocean', probably one of his finest songs to date. A shower of enthusiastic applause accompanied his exit, and quite rightly - a fantastic homecoming performance that temporarily blew away the cobwebs of cynicism within me.




Here we are again, another autumn chill bringing with it all the usual ingredients: yellows, oranges, browns, bare branches, frosty stillness, hibernators fervently fetching their hoards and Manchester's Warehouse Project. The WHP, like the furry woodland creatures of wintry dormancy, has found a new home. This stone labyrinth resembles a hybrid of the lowroofed tunnel system of the recently departed Store Street car park venue and the high-ceilinged open expanse of the old Boddingtons Brewery where it all began.

At first it seems like a rabbit burrow, opening out to a main chamber where the night's curators, critically hyped duo SBTRKT, bring the curtain down. When their rendition of 'Right Thing To Do' rings out, it bookends thousands of preceding contorted grins and glimpses to the sky. Earlier on, Disclosure's trademark line-drawn face stares out across the same room as the pair produce a set of twitchy Mount Kimbie-esque samples tweaked towards sole-shaking bass and blissfully dubbed out techno. By the end, that seems a distant memory, but WHP deals in marathons, not sprints. En route, TNGHT's bassy pulses bleed across the room and Four Tet twists ten minutes of splice and shuffle into a sudden constriction as bassline vibrations engulf and dictate airflow, force-feeding references to There Is Love In You and beyond.

The intervals and smaller rooms are largely left to the whim of the Hoya:Hoya team. Jonny Dub and Illum Sphere share deck duty, dropping anything from rock to reggae, drum and bass to soul and jazz, fitting in an 'Idioteque' nod towards the night's Manchester Arena headliners Radiohead. Incidentally, the rumours abound of Thom Yorke bringing his records bag along seem wide of the mark. Two other Hoya:Hoya affiliates, Krystal Klear and Lone, between them manage to illuminate a flaw of competing decibel levels in close proximity. The latter's quieter lulls are picked off by the former's eardrum thudders next door, although with Lone's tech synth intensity raised they're an even match.

Dan Snaith, of the Arena's support band Caribou, does spin some records ahead of his Daphni project's debut record release, although the standout in Room Two happens earlier on. Koreless uses steady builds by layering echoing vocal blips over synthetic soundscapes, later leading to ambient organ sample breaks which fade to near silence before a denser, string-led crescendo.

People saunter out into a misty morning, clearing the colony's airways to breathe without rhythm once more.




The Lantern Theatre is always a special place to attend a show, whether it be a pantomime, play or gig. Its capacity of only 84 lends any show an immediate intimacy, so it is disappointing to see the venue only half full to witness two of the most innovative solo performers around at the moment.

Sheffield's own Ruth O'Hare is a shy, self-conscious performer who has always felt more comfortable with nature and animals, with whom she has a deep fascination. Playing under her nom de plume Oxo Foxo, Ruth kneels on stage dressed in an animal hood and slowly builds vocal loops into haunting, soaring songs. She occasionally uses pre-recorded rhythms and vocals, but it is mostly her angelic live vocals that she uses so effectively to create her otherwordly tableaux. The two cover versions (Peter Frampton's 'Baby I Love Your Way' and Whigfield's 'Saturday Night') are genuine, heartfelt performances, rather than being kitschy or ironic.

Verity Susman formerly played guitar and keyboards in Electralane, the Brighton-based experimental band on hiatus since 2007, although they did play a few gigs in Australia earlier this year. Her solo performances have included recent shows with the Raincoats and Atlas Sound, performing at the Tate Modern plus an upcoming slot at the John Cage celebration. Such is her pedigree.

For this performance she dons a handlebar moustache, a nod to the fifth anniversary of La Moustache Festival in Berlin, presenting themes of subverted gender and female masculinity which prove both humorous and awkward. The first piece has Susman on tenor saxophone producing various grunts, squeaks and squawks, looped to create a cacophonous though rhythmic soundscape. The following pieces are cut-ups performed on Korg, pedals and saxophone - a bewildering collage of melody, invention and alienation.

Susman places as much emphasis on the visual as on the aural, and the backdrop, created by Jack Barraclough, features a dizzying mix of repeating images - male bodybuilders with saxophones for genitalia, Amazonian women with pneumatic breasts - all amplifying and distorting the provocative text voiced in the computerised spoken word segments.

The audience watches in rapt silence, even when the moustache falls to the floor, though this is met with a wry smile by Susman. This is a confident, assured multimedia performance with an abundance of ideas colliding and mostly succeeding. A definite must-see next time around.


16th October.

Reviewer - Rob Aldam.

There is quite a hubbub in Plug's main room as Marika Hackman takes to the stage, but she doesn't let this faze her. Armed with just an electric guitar, her voice freely soars above the tumultuous crowd. There has been a lot of excited talk about the young folk singer, and judging by her performance tonight, the hype is entirely justified.

She plays with a self-assurance that belies her tender age and relative inexperience, packing her set with a string of short whimsical folk songs. Her voice has a beautifully haunting lilt and a simple grace. 'Mountain Spike', 'Here I Lie' and 'You Come Down' all demonstrate smart musicianship and a good ear for a tune. Whilst her material is more suited to the acoustic guitar and a much more intimate venue, her talented is unquestionable.

Benjamin Francis Leftwich takes to the stage to a packed crowd, who take a few seconds to realise he's there. Opening with a solo version of 'Pictures', taken from his impressive debut album Last of the Melting Snow, he gradually lowers the volume as the song reaches its climax. He is then joined by his band as they spring into a wonderful rendition of '1904'. His set comprises songs from the album alongside ones from his forthcoming EP, In the Open, chucking in a well-judged cover of Arcade Fire's 'Rebellion (Lies)' for good measure.

However, where he stands out as a musician is when he's on stage alone. The highlight of the evening is undoubtedly an acoustic rendition of 'Maps'. I've not heard such a large crowd mesmerised into silence since Jens Lekman and his small bell played at The Plug a few years ago. It sent a shivers down my spine.

He ends his encore with an acoustic sing-along to 'Atlas Hands' - a fitting end to a pretty special evening of music from two budding talents.


Next article in issue 56

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