Ed O’Brien, Mark Kelly and a host of new talent were on hand to help reopen this legendary London venue
ocated in Kings Cross, The Water Rats – formerly known as the Pindar Of Wakefield – has long been an institution on London’s live music circuit. Bob Dylan played his first UK show there in 1962; The Pogues (then known as Pogue Mahone) and The Beta Band played their first ever gigs there, while it was also the site of Oasis’s debut London performance. It’s a venue that can fairly be described as ‘steeped in history’. So after a recent refurbishment, Songwriting was proud to be a part of its reopening on 29 January, in association with Success Express Music, the Featured Artists Coalition and Independent Venue Week.
The evening was a two-part affair. The first half saw FAC and Success Express Music hosting the first of what is to be a monthly series of ‘Drop-In Sessions’, where young FAC-registered musicians get the chance to put questions to high-profile members in an informal setting. Taking questions from the floor at this inaugural event were Ed O’Brien from Radiohead and Mark Kelly from Marillion.
Topics covered during the Q&A session included the relevance or otherwise of record labels in today’s industry, the difficulties of juggling songwriting with the need to be constantly promoting yourself on social media, and whether or not it’s advisable to “give up the day job”. Our favourite soundbite of the evening came from Ed, who on the subject of applying a work ethic to songwriting said, “I’m in my shed from 10am to 1pm, and from 2pm to 5pm, every single day. I don’t know whether the muse will come and visit me or not… but I do know that if she turns up and I’m not there, well, that’s no use at all, is it?” Ed also compared writing songs to “catching butterflies out of the air,” which seemed to strike a chord with many of those present.
The second part of the evening, presented by Success Express Music and Songwriting, then saw six young up-and-coming artists playing live – each playing three songs, and many performing new material that they’d written especially for the event. The line-up was curated by Lorraine Solomon at Success Express, so sadly Songwriting can’t take any credit for that aspect of the night’s entertainment. What we can tell you, though, is the talent on display completely blew us away!
First to perform was Luke Ferre, a young singer-songwriter from Portsmouth, who took to the stage armed only with an acoustic guitar. Luke’s sound has previously been described by no less an organisation than BBC Introducing… as “the fun of Ed Sheeran, with the guitar lines of Frank Turner,” and we’d say that’s a fair summary. Luke opened his short set with Emerald, a folky number with a hint of the Van Morrisons about it. He then followed that with More Than Love, an uptempo, Sheeran-esque track that showed an admirable disgregard for meter, cramming more syllables into a line than you’d have thought humanly possible, before closing with Bloodshot, a melancholic song but with a more upbeat, rousing chorus.
Next to take the stage were Echo Wants Her Voice Back, which is a new band project fronted by American “folk noir” artiste Eleni Skarpari. The three-piece ensemble (two guitars and a cello!) opened with an experimental, PJ Harvey-ish number called Gone For Good, complete with an extended a capella intro. That was followed by You Left Me Here, which called to mind comparisons with Lorde and Bjork and which made great use of alternating loud and soft sections. It’s taken from the band’s recent debut EP, as was closer Bricks And Sparrows, which saw a third guitarist (introduced simply as “George”) joining the other three on stage, leaving Eleni to concentrate on vocal duties.
Our third performer of the evening was Alexander McKay, a Somerset-born singer-songwriter toting an acoustic guitar and a blues-y drawl à la Tom Waits/Chris Rea/Ray LaMontagne. He opened with Until The End, a gentle love ballad which he introduced with the words “My grandparents taught me about love… this is their story”. That was followed by Stones, which is where we first encountered Alexander’s signature, a Logarhythm stompbox that provided his acoustic solo performance with a heavyweight backbeat. Alexander then took us to the interval with Mistakes And Regret, a brand new song featuring an impressively intricate fingerpicked intro.
After a short interval, next to take the stage was Calista Kazuko, a self-styled “teeny-weeny Jew-panese princess” who trained as a classical pianist at London’s Royal Academy Of Music, and who recently released an album with Elliott James Frisby. Sitting behind a Roland FP-50 stage piano, Calista opened with Press Stop And Rewind, which she introduced as “a song about killing your boyfriend” and which came on a little like a collision between Amy Winehouse and Paloma Faith. The more torch-y, vamp-y Invisible saw her in classic singer-songwriter mode, while jazzy, Balkan-tinged closer Love Me, with its big dramatic intro, called to mind both Björk and Songwriting‘s own ReverbNation competition winners Sylvana Joyce & The Moment. With confident presentation and undeniable stage presence, Calista got the second half going nicely.
Then it was time for a complete change of pace, as on came Johnny Lucas to show us just what one man can achieve with a pedalboard full of loopers and FX. Building each song from loops played on electric guitar, on a bass mounted on a stand next to him on stage and beatboxed straight into the mic, Jonny opened with a track called Lilo that called to mind the kind of quirky glam-psych-pop you might expect if Jeff Lynne, Mika, Jim Noir and Steve Harley were to join forces! Echoes, a song written especially for the occasion, trod more straight-up indie-rock ground after the manner of Arctic Monkeys or Bombay Bicycle Club, while Tom Petty-ish closer It Keeps Me Alive with its rousing singalong chorus had the Water Rats crowd up on their feet and dancing for the first time that evening. Having picked up props and radio plays already from Tom Robinson, Jimmy Page and The Independent, Johnny is definitely one to watch.
With Johnny having raised energy levels in the room, what we needed now was an act that could not just maintain but increase the excitement… and fortunately, The Greasy Slicks were just the band to do just that. The three-piece band opened with Get Over Yourself, a grinding blues-rock number in classic Cream/Free style, complete with some seriously impressive guitar licks. Singer Jack Kendrew’s meagre frame made us wonder whether he could possibly have the voice to match… but then he opened his mouth. And he did. That impressive opener was followed by Thrill, a livelier jam that got a little bit country around the edges, while a slower, Clapton-esque blues lament entitled Let Me Down brought the evening to an end in very fine style. Or at least it would have done, had the audience not whooped and hollered for an encore, which the lads delivered in the form of Messing With My Head.
With the opportunity to meet world-class musicians in a friendly, informal setting, then hear some dazzling performances from some extremely talented young artists, it’s fair to say the evening was a roaring success. Team Songwriting came away well and truly buzzing… and looking forward immensely to the next installment! Watch this space for details…