By Matt Berryman
Every first Monday of the month, the Shakespeare’s Head Pub on Chatham Place holds a showcase of acoustic acts. One might expect an evening of repetitive singer-songwriters blearily throwing out half-arsed renditions of ‘Hallelujah’.
So I found myself holding my breath when the opening act last Monday uttered the words ‘This next song is a Leonard Cohen cover.’ Oh, how wrong I was.
Yorkshire born Kate Williams blew away audiences with her quietly beautiful take on Cohen’s ‘Chelsea Hotel’. Her voice complimented the original by giving the main melody a haunting sense of vulnerability.
A regular performer at the Shakespeare’s Head, Williams’ own songs provided a welcome opening to the night. Her voice sounded like ‘Daughter’ by way of ‘Joanna Newsom’: all echoes and sorrowful falsettos.
The opening song ‘Bottled in Colours’ blew away the crowd and captivated them for every song that followed. After playing live for four years, her experience has certainly paid off.
She is currently making an album with ‘Homesick Records’ and I would recommend seeing her the next time she graces the stage.
Following the heart breaking beauty of Williams’ set was never going to be an easy task, but Kendall Sant was able to win over a crowd with an altogether different sound, going for pure dynamic energy over stark simplicity.
Dressed in a cowboy shirt and a hat to match, it was clear that Sant would be providing the Shakespeare’s head with a true country vibe, and he did just that.
His first two tracks, ‘Snow in June’ and ‘Last Dance’ respectively, showed off his talented songwriting ability in blending old school blues and country into a modern pop rock song. Many of his choruses still lingered in the mind long after the night was over.
There was clearly a very strong Dylan influence, made all the more clear by his incendiary cover of ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’. Yet his voice allowed much room for versatility—some tracks would have the tenderness of a Damien Rice song, while others had the bombast fanaticism of early Elton John.
The use of a harmonica while still playing guitar was absolutely inspired and allowed him to truly freak out on a number of songs, like I said, the guy was a bundle of energy!
Sadly, this marked Sant’s last solo performance in Brighton before going to travel with his band in the US. The band, known as ‘Angels and Sailors’ bring very much the same raw intensity to blues and country; their last gig in England will be in London this Friday. If you like to rock out, then definitely don’t miss it.
After the pure energy that was Kendall Sant, I was more than ready to write off the third act of this evening. Rarely would I go to a gig where each and every act was so superb. Once again, I was proved horribly wrong, as Stark provided the perfect end to the evening.
Citing influences that ranged from Motown to John Lee Hooker, and even Tool were given a mention. Such was the wonderful originality inherent in Stark’s sound.
Their unique blend of visceral finger picking with driving basslines and a drum section that was constantly finding innovative new ways to keep a beat, made Stark one of those bands that are one in a million. They had taken influence from a variety of music from the mid-twentieth century and somehow made it sound both new and fresh.
Songs change from syncopated bluegrass hoedowns to slow burning instrumental sections. The rhythms on show were constantly giving the music a sense of progression and flowing movement.
The guitar stylings of Jamie Francis truly have to be seen to be believed. Virtuoso does not even begin to describe it. His riffs often drove through entire songs, not once getting old, and the fact that he was able to sing whilst playing such technically complex pieces just added to the astounding talent on show.
His rhythm section in the form of Evan Carson (Drums) and Josh ‘Rusty’ Franklin (Bass) were equally as impressive in giving Francis a platform in which to leap from, adding great depth to the band’s overall sound, not least in the way they provided pitch perfect harmonies to close out the evening.
Stark are a band who will appeal to both musicians and music fans alike. Their songs show excellent creativity and their execution is done with a fascinating attention to detail.
Their next performance in Brighton will take place at the White Rabbit this Sunday. If you, in any way, are a fan of live music I implore you to be there!