Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Johnny Flynn & The Sussex Wit at Hackney Empire

Johnny Flynn and the Sussex Wit
Johnny Flynn at Hackney Empire

I'm still learning how to get these posts out on time, it is a struggle with work being so busy, hence this post being over a week late. I went to see Johnny Flynn & The Sussex Wit at the Hackney Empire on 10th October 2013.

I have been a fan of Johnny Flynn's deep poetic tones since 2008, when his first full length album, A Larum was released. Since then I have seen him a full five times prior to this, twice on his own (Transgressive Records in Shoreditch and Shakespeare's Globe this year) and three times with his band The Sussex Wit (Union Chapel, Shepherd's Bush and this year's Gentleman of the Road Stopover with Mumford, The Vaccines, Edward Sharpe et al). I've even blogged about him before at The London Word. So it is safe to say I am not a newbie to his gigs or admirable musicality. This time I trekked to Hackney - three tubes from work followed by two night buses home - to hear him perform a set which including many songs from his new album: Country Mile.

Along with the only friend who really indulges my love for the "modern folk rock" and its many relations, we were of course late and arrived mid way through the performance of the second of his support acts, Marika Hackman. A slip of a girl who looked about twelve and had the suitable uncomfortable-on-stage air so much favoured by the folk/singer-songwriter types because "it's about the music" you know. Apparently she's an ex-Burberry model and childhood friend of the rarely pictured Miss Cara Delevingne. Her voice when we listened following a hurried trip to the bar was extremely special, a softer strummier version of the girl from new indie pop sensation London Grammar. Her lyrics were poetic, straying to quite dark... definitely one to watch...

Johnny Flynn & The Sussex Wit, Hackney Empire, London, 10/10/13

Later, Johnny strolled on stage accompanied by his usual bunch of sartorial misfits The Sussex Wit including his female backing singer/pianist/flautist/accordion player etc, his sister, Lily who I actually went to school with for two years when I was 11. I remember playing opposite her in a adapted musical version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs - even then she had a hauntingly beautiful voice. Talented family.

As usual as well, Johnny stood in the midst of a circle of various instruments which I knew would be exchanged throughout the set as he showed that genuine musicality that I mentioned before. His band the Sussex Wit include, not only his sister Lillie on vocals, flute and accordion but also David Beauchamp on bass, Adam Beach on drums, Joe Zeitlin on cello and Cosmo Sheldrake (also the first support act that we missed) on keyboard.

The set rambled merrily through old favourites such as Brown Trout Blues,The Box and the The Wrote and the Writ from first album, A Larum and Been Listening, Howl and The Water from Been Listening. He interspersed well-known songs with new ones from Country Mile.

Preffered tracks of mine from the new album included the title track, Country Mile - apparently about walking according to Johnny and a very "country" folk record in the old American sense with a lot of twangy guitar behind the catchy, repetitive chorus. Murmuration (def: an act or instance of murmuring), slower dream-like and more poetic Johnny "I dreamt I flew with the saints last night/I know them all by wing size/And up there it just doesn’t count for naught/Whether you’re clever or wise" - I do appreciate a good poetic lyric. I've heard the sweet sound of Einstein's Idea - Johnny's lullaby for his son - before performed live and always like it. My favourite new track though had to be Fol-de-rol, which as Johnny explained referenced the bands love for South American folk music and Chicha; psychedelic Peruvian music from the 60’s/70’s. It stays true to the band's musicality and Johnny's earthy tones, but builds to rollicking chorus with some great male harmonising that certainly made my friend and I stamp our feet very un-surreptitiously amongst the well-behaved, serene audience.

If you are not a nu-folk/folk rock/ Flynn fan already I would generally advise starting with A Larum as it is probably his most "popular" work, but personally I am a great fan of Country Mile. Whilst Flynn and his band were never going to make an album that was a significantly different sound from the others, I do feel that Country Mile is more upbeat and positive than Been Listening and goes back to the twangy, memorable chorus's found on A Larum, whilst the philosophical lyrics never fail to pique thought.

As a live act, Johny Flynn & the Sussex Wit are a must-see in my book. Rarely is so much musicality seen on stage; Johnny himself plays the banjo, trumpet, mandolin, guitar, fiddle - and I'm sure others that I didn't notice. The band really feel one and other in the way that only comes from years together and constant jamming on the road and whenever they can just because they enjoy it. I would see them again and again. Going to their gigs makes me want to move to North East London marry a guitar player and become a whisky-drinking poet... aaahh if only....

Images (c) (1)Annabel Cameron and (2)Wunmi Onibudo on Flickr

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