Evenings like this can’t help but make you wish that someone would send a terminator back in time to erase Simon Cowell from history. There was undoubtedly more talent on display this evening than in the entire cast of any of his ‘talent’ shows which when you consider the diminutive, albeit enthusiastic, crowd here tonight, is more than a little frustrating.
Opener Ryan Keen offered up a refreshing take on the often tired singer-songwriter genre with some superb original material, played with a seriously accomplished rhythmical guitar style and accompanied by a chap called Leroy (whose name the crowd really enjoyed chanting…) on Cajon. Exponents of the genre are all too often indistinguishable from each other, with the guitar serving as a mere accompaniment to the lyrics and the way in which they are performed. With Keen’s music the guitar takes centre stage and is equally as awe-inspiring as the lyrical content of his material. From gentle finger picked ballads to upbeat roots music, complete with lots of finger slapping and some delightfully simple yet tight vocal harmonies from the talented Leroy, Keen left the stage ensuring that following his set would be an unenviable task.
So following a brief intermission Jay Brannan quietly slipped onto the stage. A far cry from the crisp, clean roots of his predecessor, Brannan offered a more traditional take on the singer-songwriter genre. A simple guitar backing provides the framework which sits underneath his gently sung lyrics – and he certainly does have quite a voice. Soft, sweet and effortless, he wraps his velvety tones around some decent original material as well as a number of cover versions – including a sublime version of Sinead O’Connor’s Black Boys on Mopeds – but it’s his personality which makes him compelling viewing. He’s utterly at ease with the audience and frequently engages in banter mid-song where he feels the need to expand on something he’s singing about. If his technical skills on the guitar and songwriting ability are perhaps lacking slightly when compared to his peers his wholly engrossing and intense personality more than makes up for it. A really interesting and captivating character indeed and a top evening overall. JS