A one man band, he wielded a gorgeous black hollow-bodied Gibson guitar, drummed exuberantly with two feet on a miniature kit, rapped and sang soulfully over the top - the raw, ramshackle nature of the performance deflecting from his effortlessly skilful guitar playing (which even allowed the show to go on when one of the drum mics fell over and he had to stand up to fix it, mid-song). He played an intoxicating mix of rock, blues and hip hop covers, reworkings and original songs absolutely unapologetically, unaffected by the incongruousness of his surroundings.
The self sufficiency of his performance called to mind another intense and self contained solo show I witnessed a few years ago. St Vincent aka Annie Clark often plays with a band now but just after her debut album “Marry Me” came out in 2007 I saw her play solo at another cellar venue - the 229 in Euston.
I remember being dazzled by the layers of sound she was able to weave together playing different instruments and utilising a baffling array of pedals and other on-stage toys, all the while captivating the audience with the vulnerable warmth of her songs. In this case, her very controlled sound and obvious technical mastery threw a spotlight on her stunning guitar playing while Lewis Floyd Henry’s laid back openness tended to lead the eye away, but I find it interesting to compare and contrast one multi-tasker with another, especially as a solo performer myself.
Tom Robinson wrote a wonderful piece recently for solo gigs which is an absolute must-read for anyone gigging or wanting to gig alone, and I also highly recommend Stewart Lee’s book “How I Escaped My Certain Fate” - which I think should be mandatory reading for performers of all disciplines. While rules are made to be broken it’s interesting to note the effectiveness of different elements of other peoples’ shows - whenever I see a band or artist I like I will tend to analyse what they’re doing that makes me engage with them, and delving in to that philosophical side only adds to my enjoyment.
As a songwriter I am always on the eye out, magpie fashion, for phrases, ideas, moods and scenarios that might spark off a new musical adventure and I hunt with interest for similar ideas for performing. A live show is a unique experience for the artist and the audience and it’s well worth spending time to understand what you’re trying to convey and how best to focus that magical and intangible communication between you and the other people in the room.
Inspiration is everywhere - keep your eyes and ears open.
Karin Holm @ Fascination St