Another one of those magical evenings at the Muse: the switching on the the Brecon Christmas lights bought people along in cheerful mood to enjoy the intimate and homely atmosphere, and some very fine music.
The evening started out with the wonderfully talented Joe Kelly, playing a solo acoustic set. From the first moment he sang, the audience was enthralled by Joe’s passionate and soulful voice. You find yourself wondering how a Newport lad can manage to evoke such authentic and pitch-perfect world-weary Americana.
On occasions summoning up the sound and style of Dylan, complete with wailing harmonica – Joe tastefully manages to make this only a fleeting comparison, instead focusing on a more melodic and soulful style that is uniquely his own.
Despite his modest protestations, he proved himself to be more than equal to the task of playing without his usual band (the Royal Pharmacy). In fact. the solo acoustic setting suited him well, helping to draw attention to the quality of his song writing: often tinged with melancholic regret, songs like ‘Holding on’ and ‘Amber glow’ (the latter from the album ‘World On Fire‘) are poignant and accomplished, gritty and haunting.
A kind of vulnerability comes across in much of his work: it’s no mean feat to bring a hush to the whole Muse audience, and Joe managed this repeatedly as they were drawn under his spell.
We also have Joe to thank for introducing us to Nookee – truly one of the most extraordinary, unique, charming and talented groups ever to have taken the stage here in Brecon.
It’s very difficult to convey in words how a single band can manage to span such a vast range of musical styles – yet sound so excellent in all of them. At times it felt as though they had stealthily raided all of our old 1970s record collections, taken the very best bits, and somehow woven them all back together into a new, fresh and magical whole.
Right from the outset you knew this was no ordinary band: jaws dropped in incredulity as they announced their intention to play an entire progressive concept album – as a prelude to their main set! They duly did just that – with some psychedelically echoing lead guitars (Matthew Lee and Ruben Kingman), pulsating Floydian drums (Bryn Morris), and much theatrical waving of fans, streamers and surreal red wings.
This was all wonderful in itself – but as the night progressed their music gained pace into some of the most tightly played and danceable jazzy blues-funk you could ever wish to hear. Twin soul sisters Gemma and Violet Hunt-Humphries both have incredibly powerful and passionate voices, evoking memories of the greats such as Aretha and Janis. Either one of them on their own would have made an excellent and remarkable lead singer – but together they worked perfectly in step and in harmony with a rapport that was hypnotising to watch, and just begging to be danced to.
Then – just when you thought you had them figured out – they changed again for some beautiful and delicate piano work by bassist/keyboard player Stefan Dale with Violet and Gemma’s voices floating ethereally across the top in a manner more reminiscent of the likes of Marissa Nadler or Kate Bush.
Inevitably the soul won the day though, as their set drew towards a powerfully funky close, and the audience was irresistibly drawn up onto to its feet for some much appreciated dancing. Even then they had one last surprise in store: a storming rock & roll encore of ‘hound dog’ to finish off a truly memorable and eclectic performance.
This is a seriously talented young band: they have to be seen live to be truly appreciated, and we certainly hope we’ll be seeing them again in Brecon, perhaps on their way to greater things.
Grateful thanks as ever to all at the Muse for hosting such a lovely evening, and to everyone involved in making the gig happen.
Photos by Barry Hill
Review by Jim Kerslake