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Tom, Nick and Lenny 3 / Villagers / Norman Jay + more.

by Now Then Sheffield

LANTERN THEATRE.
2ND FEBRUARY.

REVIEWER - PAUL ROBSON.

On 2nd February the Lantern Theatre held a sold-out charity event to help raise funds for the British Red Cross. The main attraction was that some of Sheffield's greatest acoustic musicians gathered to pay tribute to the songwriting troubadours Tom Waits, Nick Cave and Leonard Cohen by each including a cover song in their sets. The gig featured local artists Captives on the Carousel, Hungarian Lanterns, Ian Bramall and Elliot J Huntley. Although the theme may not sound like a cheerful Saturday night out, all the acts were joined by an eager and responsive crowd.

It was surprising how effortlessly the songs of Waits, Cave and Cohen accompanied the artists' own work. Each act was able to infuse the same qualities of melancholia, mystery and pathos into their performances. The acoustic duo Sarah Morrey (guitar & vocals) and Ben Eckersley (cello) who make up Captives on the Carousel delivered a stream of enchanting and poetic words accompanied by haunting strings. The band Hungarian Lanterns (named after a line in the Leonard Cohen song 'Take This Waltz') also bestowed their performance with a dark potent quality, although it was lightened by the comic sensibilities of lead vocalist Anthony J Brown, who combined the dark romanticism of Leonard Cohen with the droll humour of Morrissey.

Elliot J Huntley, who plays mandolin for the Hungarian Lanterns, delivered an affecting solo set comprised entirely of Tom Waits songs. His voice may not have the same stark grittiness but his soft vocal phrasing and eloquent playing created a new found subtlety.

Before starting his performance, Ian Bramall delivered a witty comment about the Lantern Theatre being the only sold-out gig he had ever been part of. His self-deprecating manner endearingly flowed through his music as he sang lyrics in a distinct Sheffield accent. Joined by other guest musicians, Bramall also showcased his expertise on the harmonica.

The evening's entertainment was fittingly complemented by the décor, which combined a mix of the avant-garde and the theatrical. Between each act there was also a soundtrack of songs by Waits, Cave and Cohen to help set the mood. Overall the show was delivered with much passion and commitment, making it a proud tribute.

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LEADMILL.
8TH FEBRUARY.

REVIEWER - ROB ALDAM.

Conor O'Brien, the frontman and driving force behind Irish band Villagers, seems to take everything in his stride. After their debut album Becoming A Jackal was nominated for the Mercury Music Prize and received wide critical acclaim in 2010, he didn't let himself get ruffled by the prospect of recording the difficult second album. Their follow up, {Awayland}, sees O'Brien opting for a much bigger and brasher sound, expanding the boundaries of their music and incorporating diverse instrumentation and styles. Tonight, they look like they were born to play on a bigger stage.

Opening proceedings this evening are Stealing Sheep, with Lucy leading the beat on the tom toms. It's fair to say that a good proportion of the early arrivals look slightly perplexed when they start to play, but by the end they had won over a fair raft of the crowd. While last year's Into the Diamond Sun is an impressive body of work, where the Liverpool ladies really excel is in their live performances. Pounding rhythms are combined with beautiful vocal harmonies, creating a trance-like state which seems to sway through the crowd. 'Paper Moon' is reminiscent of Echo and the Bunnymen, while 'Shut Eye' is more upbeat and joyous. Stealing Sheep are a band who seem to be born to play at festivals, and tonight's performance brought a bit of sunshine to The Leadmill.

Villagers open with the delicate 'My Lighthouse' before shifting up a gear into a much more upbeat tempo. Along with expanding the band since they last played The Leadmill, their sound has a noticeably greater scope and resonance. There is a nautical theme flowing throughout Villagers' music, and given that they come from a seaside town they clearly have a strong connection with the sea. They play a mix of songs from both albums, O'Brien's beautifully resonant voice effortlessly carrying itself to all four corners of the room. Unsurprisingly, the singles from the first album are enthusiastically received, however new songs 'Judgement Call', 'Nothing Arrived' and 'Passing A Message' also elicit warm applause.

Halfway through the set they take the pace down a notch, the beautiful 'Becoming A Jackal' and 'Set the Tigers Free' seeming to eddy soothingly around the room. But Villagers are a highly versatile group and have the ability to really go for it when they want, as shown when they rock out during 'The Bell'. They end to rapturous applause with 'Early Pleasures', before coming back out for a richly deserved encore, aptly closing the night with 'Ship of Promises'. Villagers are a rare combination of immaculate musicianship, delicate lyricism and beautifully infectious songs, and tonight they stole everyone's hearts.

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LIVE @ 215.
15TH FEBRUARY.

REVIEWER - TASHA FRANEK.

Probably the most mature and sophisticated Friday night out I've had in Sheffield, Live @ 215 is a music venue for those with a taste for the subdued. Run by The Crowded House church group, there was a very apparent community present, but one that I was very promptly welcomed into. The evening was fuelled by cappuccinos and carrot cake included in the ticket price.

The set was split into two sections with an interval to top up on coffees and exchange opinions with new friends. The absence of a support act was endearing as it put all of the attention on the inspiring talent of the entertainment for the evening, Mr Michael J Tinker. For those of you who aren't familiar, Tinker is a folk artist who released his debut album Shores of Amerikay last year and is now doing the customary rounds of showcasing it. I managed to catch some of his set at the Folk Forest during Tramlines, a great counterpoint to the much more personal venue choice of his own local church. With such a different crowd and atmosphere I really wasn't sure what to expect as Michael took to the metaphorical stage for part one of the set.

Nerves were very much apparent as he began softly and slowly with the track 'Cole Not Dole'. Vocally and instrumentally, Tinker and his band were on point from start to finish and as confidence set in they really brought the power and enthusiasm that I felt was a little constrained on the album. I fell instantly in love with The Incredible Washboard Pete II on percussion, who used everything from whisks to wind chimes during the set and sported an excellent signature waistcoat, perfectly fitted for any eccentric instrumentalist. Highlights included a beautiful instrumental track called 'Jonny's Song', written for Tinker's son, which demonstrated the high level of musical talent in the room, and a couple of my favourite tracks from the album, 'House Carpenter' and 'Hammer', which exploded into life in the flesh.

The night was sewn together with stories about each track alongside a collection of brilliantly told yet terrible jokes. A very enjoyable evening as a whole, and I look forward to seeing what is next for Tinker and co.

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The Washington.
14th + 16th February.

Reviewer - Pete Martin.

Stop the Wedding is a new four-day arts and music festival curated by the creative collective Knife and Folk and held at the Washington. The opening night featured live art and local DJs, but for this review I've concentrated on a selection of the subsequent live music.

On the Thursday evening there were recurrent sound problems, due in part to the shape of the performing area not being conducive to crystal clear acoustics. First up were local band Audrey Horne, a potent mix of washed out guitar, jazz-infused bass and strong female vocals. The majority of their set followed a similar shoegaze format, though in the quieter passages the vocals had an engaging lovers rock lilt. The uptempo penultimate number 'Dancing Queen' was the crowd's highlight.

Nine-piece The Tempertons were always going to struggle to fit on the postage stamp stage and the soundman decided on a 3-3-3 formation, with the horn section standing in front of the stage. They played a few numbers whilst battling with the technical problems which especially hindered the two vocalists, but eventually both mics are deemed unusable and everything grinds to a halt. A crying shame.

On the Saturday evening the sound gremlins seemed to have been sorted out and the Shaking Whips were the first beneficiary. This guitar, drums and vocal three-piece play things loose and rough round the edges. The songs are mostly short and bluesy. 'Uneasy' and '10,000v' from last year's demo are perfect examples, but the best received is a rocking paean to Halle Berry. The male lead vocals are pretty thin, but the female vocal shows a great range, from a throaty Joplin-esque roar to some sweet, heavenly wailing.

Coma Girls grabbed the audience by the throat and didn't let go for the duration of their set. The aggressive frontman barked lyrics and slashed at his Telecaster while referencing Lynyrd Skynyrd, U2, 'Werewolves of London', Nashville TN and The Moors. An exhortation to the crowd of 'wanna get drunk' sums up the testosterone-fuelled set.

Former Bullies are a Manchester trio who play ramshackle sunshine pop. Their lo-fi, melodic set is offset somewhat by an occasional darker lyric - 'Took my baby to the crematorium/ Ain't coming back again'. Depending on your viewpoint they can be viewed as endearing amateurs or in need of more practice. Take your pick.

Headliners are Bakewell's The Hipshakes, who after a decade have amassed a noisy and faithful hardcore following, but despite their obvious enthusiasm they leave me cold. This was hardly a stellar line-up of bands, but there are a few that with a polish can certainly shine.

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The Harley.
16th February.

Reviewer - Joe Baker.

Norman Jay is a legend on these shores and beyond. A respected DJ of 30+ years, his yearly spot at the Notting Hill Carnival with his Good Times Sound System has gained him a cult following and has also seen him recognised with an MBE. The man was in town last month courtesy of The Harley's Reminisce This night, and the kind folks at Now Then sent me along to check it out.

Thirsty Ear's Easty & Powlo warmed things up with their usual high standards of super-heavy funk & dirty disco, before Norman Jay himself took over the turntables. The next two hours was a scatter gun mix of house, hip hop, R&B, disco, funk and soul, genre-hopping from track to track. The dance floor was continually pleased, and there was a good energy and atmosphere in the building.

Technically you could say his mixing left something to be desired, but 75% of the job is in track selection, which he got right on for the large part. It was nice to hear him address the crowd too, creating a bit of a bond as well as showing his appreciation. The party people were all too happy to make some noise in return.

There were a few comments the next day about how his set had sounded like iTunes on random - hard to really get into and lacking direction - and to a degree I agree with that. All the same, it was an excellent booking and the high turnout of punters will hopefully encourage promoters to book more DJs of the same high calibre.

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Leadmill.
16th February.

Reviewer - Ben Eckersley.

Everything Everything, performing to a noisily jubilant sell-out audience at the Leadmill, seem perfectly poised to inherit the UK's alternative music crown. Their new album is a cracker, and with love being expressed for them from all quarters, they are looking forward to what will most likely be a pretty exceptional 2013. So it's an almighty shame that they are such a dull live act. But more on that in a moment. First a note on the support act with a small confession from me.

Post War Years is a great name for a band and is especially suited to this London quintet, who have a penchant for progressive European electronic music. Somewhere along the line, though, I managed to confuse them with the unrelentingly awful Cold War Kids and as such managed to miss two thirds of their set. What I did hear was interesting, thoughtful and at times quite beautiful. They did cross the thin line into rather dull indie-electro more than once, but at their best seemed a very promising band, combining minimal, off-kilter beats with rich instrumental textures and soaring vocal lines. If you're listening to them, I strongly suggest bypassing their debut album and heading straight for their recent EPs.

Everything Everything only had to walk onto the stage to enrapture the crowd. The screams that accompanied the opening bars of 'Kemosabe' were the kind that I've not heard for a new band in some time. EE have managed to make music with a mass appeal that is still complex, intelligent and praiseworthy. Their songs have a dizzying effervescence, combining the angular lines of Friendly Fires with the structural complexity of Battles, intricate math rock beats and 8-bit synths, all tied together with the new-wave flamboyance of the incessant falsetto vocals. Listen more carefully and you'll hear shades of disco, ska, even afrobeat. Their new album has avoided the messy everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach of their debut, with mature, streamlined, assertive songwriting.

But the bravado of their recordings was entirely absent from the performance, and I couldn't help but feel let down by a band that I had such high expectations for. Most of the time they stared at the floor, producing an exact sonic replica of the CD, the live experience adding nothing to what I had already heard. I don't doubt that this review will be besieged by contradictory comments. Most people there didn't seem too bothered. Sadly I fear this is symptomatic of the damage done to pop music by the X-Factor, where merely going through the motions is deemed sufficient. I've seen videos of Radiohead at the same point in their career, playing medium-sized venues with conviction and passion enough to cross the intervening years, to reach through a computer screen and still connect with an audience. Meanwhile EE seem quite content to rehearse for a future of arena tours and indistinguishable TV appearances. If they keep making great records, I doubt I'll mind too much - I just won't fork out for a gig ticket.

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by Now Then Sheffield

Next article in issue 60

Live / stage review The Full Monty at the Lyceum, 18th February.

Some 16 years since the unlikely worldwide success of The Full Monty film, the story of six unemployed Sheffield men who form a male stripte…

Some 16 years since the unlikely worldwide success of The Full Monty film, the story of six unemployed Sheffield men who form a male stripte

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