While the vast majority of the population have returned to pottering around and going about their usual day jobs (albeit online and from home for the most part), others simply haven’t had that same luxury. Life has been a bizarre thing over the past fourteen months hasn’t it?
For those in the hospitality sector and the arts, especially musicians who earn a living performing live, the painstaking wait to return to work again has taken a toll on not only their mental health but also their physical wellbeing in some cases. Thankfully, in London anyway, the live music scene has been getting back to some semblance of it’s previous self. ‘Seated and distanced’ may have it’s obvious drawbacks and disadvantages – for example – no more smooching strangers at electronic music gigs, no more wild melees in the mosh pit of heavy metal gigs and there’s certainly no crowd surfing to be witnessed anywhere. Although an undoubtedly diluted experience, there is still so much to adore. I find sitting down to be a lot more relaxing than standing for one.
Last year, I made one foray into Central London during that late summer period where ‘seated and distanced’ gigs surfaced and became a thing (before dissappearing as winter approached). I was apprehensive about the idea of being chained to the chair but ultimately decided to brave the train journey to get there.To be brutally honest, I was pretty uptight and stressed out last year, the pandemic had me doing weird things like washing the grocery shopping in the sink, leaving the post in a pile for two days before opening the letters and cleaning my clothes every time I got home from a walk, seriously like.
The gig that night was an acoustic folk gig, headlined by Samuel Nicholson (Organised by Sam Bowcher, founder of BARK – he’s one of the realist and most passionate gig bookers in London) at the quirky Gladstone Arms. Fast forward to last night (Thursday 20th May 2021) and I am back on the train heading to yet another socially distanced, Covid secure gig organised by Bowcher headlined by Nicholson; this time in New Cross at the oldschool location of The Amersham Arms – my first gig of twenty twenty one. Oh what a wait it’s been.
It was a sold out event – I’m not surprised it was. Not only was Nicholson taking centre stage, the undercard of Neev and Holly Redford Jones would also ring a bell for any avid readers of this blog (my mum and sister). Three of the finest folk/indie artists I’ve found since doing this site, all in the same room, performing on the same night. What a proposition.
I rounded up a couple of my hip London friends (shout out Martin and Julia) and the three of us walked into the venue, bleeped our details into track and trace and took our seats at the back of the large, roomy and high-ceilinged space. As we were a touch on the late side, the first artist was already on stage. Neev – a wonderful London-based folk musician from Glasgow, was strumming the final chords of one of her opening songs as we settled into our places and ordered our beers from our table (handy) and food via the app (modern eh?).
For the next twenty minutes, give or take, the entire room remained silent; pushed into a state of chill by the rich textures of Neev and her band (with Frankie Morrow on background vocals). We collectively sat, we listened, we reflected; as Neev poured her soul into her original tracks from a setlist ranging from Forgiving Light to Black Over Grey. She finished her set with a wonderful acoustic number that left a lasting impression as she departed. She stepped foot off the stage to a well deserved and rapturous applause. It was cool, the first sustained full crowd applause I’d heard in nearly a full calendar year. Mad that.
The scene was set.
I scoffed down some saucy fried potato twirl fries ordered remotely in the brief interval between acts and braced for the next artist to take to the stage. Next up it was Holly Redford Jones – an absolutely dynamite artist from Chesterfield. Jones has been on this blog’s radar for a while now ever since hearing her sweet single ‘Call Me When You Wake Up’. She opened with a lovely rendition of that. Her voice has that same silky and languid tone as, let’s say her namesake, Norah Jones. HRJ’s general sound is not far away from being as pure.
On the evidence of this performance, Jones is not only an artist who churns out hearty music, she also boasts a stand-out stage presence; throwing witty quips out across the room in those oftenly awkward moments musicians have whilst transitioning between songs. ‘It’s good to be back using bathrooms with no soap in them again‘, she joked early on.
By the end of the gig, her bassist – the only other person accompanying her on stage, was playing the bass whilst playing the drums at the same time. It was some mad Ronnie Scott’s jazz freestyle gig type stuff. To hone such a specific and impressive skill, he must have entered a good headspace over lockdown, perhaps from smoking something more creativity inducing than Chesterfield Blue’s along the way. It was pretty epic to witness actually.
The crowd supplied another ripple of applause as she departed, leaving the stage empty and set for another London-based Scot, Samuel Nicholson – the main event of the night. I must admit, I was fairly excited about the prospect of hearing Samuel’s album ‘Missing Persons Report‘ being played out live. I’d been gorging on the album in the quiet weeks of lockdown.
We weren’t disappointed, what followed was pure and emotive. The band supplied the necessary rhythm as Nicholson fronted proceedings, delivering his superbly written tracks through gritted teeth and honest, pained expression. He lets loose through his music and this was totally evident during this performance.
The best music often comes from inner pain, being honest and being fearless during the songwriting stage. These ingredients make for the best folk music; the folk that really resonates. I’ll always remember that story about Justin Vernon locking himself in a cabin in the woods after a break-up, distraught and alone, he channelled his emotions creatively by scribing a collection of songs. A few months later, after plenty of woodland isolation, For Emma was born which undoubtedly remains one of the best indie/folk albums of all time. I get the sense Samuel Nicholson’s Missing Persons Report record has perhaps got the same kind of backstory or depth to it. Every song is brutally honest, chilling and heartfelt. This isn’t just a record, it’s his whole life painted out bravely for others to observe and find solace in.
Then, after a healthy dose of quality songs, there was the first ‘seated and distanced’ encore I’d ever seen. Shouts of ‘One More, One More‘ rang around the room as Nicholson and his band stepped off. The venue turned on their stereo system and brightened the lights – the crowd were having none of that. Shouts of ‘One more, One More Tune’ continued to ripple around the room. Thankfully, Samuel put down the pint he was just about to take first-sip on and did indeed play one final track – A flawless solo rendition of William/Rare Bear (one of my favourites from MPR). The man is a hell of a songwriter.
Live music is back – it’s reduced, it’s relaxing and it’s hopefully here to stay!
Nicholson’s 2015 album If You Be Mine is also a commonly streamed album on my personal Spotify account. There’s something totally enchanting about some of his early songs. Ballroom, for one, has slipped into my most-played of the last few years (honestly) and the instrumental looping heard on the four Oneiro’s tracks on that album hold so much weight in my estimations.
If you want to go to a gig like this that’s been organised by Sam Bowcher – follow his page on Facebook for future gig listings here
About ‘The Sound Sniffer’
The Sound Sniffer is a music blog that’s still only a baby – Founded in early 2019 by Kevin Coakley, a music writer and ghostwriter. ‘The Sound Sniffer’ also runs gigs and showcases in London since Oct 2019. The showcases are picked from artists found in the blog’s submission inbox.
Check out my Interviews HERE