Skinny Lister and We Used To Make ThingsEdit this event
It's the kind of dank, drizzly, depressing Friday night in Camden Town that would have even the most hardcore of weekend revellers reaching for the take away menus and flicking through iPlayer, trying to find something to watch that's not Eastenders' Greatest Cliffhangers. Yet music and charity stirreth strong stuff in even the most unhardy of souls, which is why Green Note is bustling ahead of an evening of acoustic pop, Americana, and folk in aid of The Anchor Project, a charity that provides a platform for kids and teenagers seeking asylum alone in the UK.
First up onstage, or onstep as the petite performing platform would probably be more accurately described, is 'nostalgic pop' combo We Used To Make Things. Or half of them at least – they've left the other four at home tonight. Smart move. They open with 'Yes Man (No No No)', the epitome of the wistful, character-based, Kinksian songwriting that is their trademark. Despite being made of only guitar, piano, and two voices, it's a surprisingly powerful, even raucous, rendition of a number more usually filled out with jaunty brass accompaniment.
While the clumsy lyrics of the similarly jolly 'Busy People' ("Too busy/To even make love") pale in comparison, We Used To Make Things have got more in their locker than off cuts from Blur's The Great Escape. If it's the yearning, anthemic number revolving around the lyric "I'd walk into a burning room/Just to be with you" that dazes the audience, it's the astonishing a capella number by singer Jan-ai that knocks them down. Her bruised, soulful voice provokes such a response that she admonishes those applauding for making her blush.
While their name evokes images of a possible N-Dubz collaborator, Skinny Lister are unashamedly folk-facing, although minus the clogs and incorporating a natty suit and haircut or two. They open with the rolling, mellow harmonies of debut single 'Plough & Onion' and warm any remaining chilled bones in the room with the accordion-wrapped bonhomie of new single 'December'. "This could be a disaster," announces mainman Daniel Heptinstall, as his band launches into a Pogues-ish shanty. A disaster it is not, as it dispels any thought that they can only do downbeat with stomping aplomb.
While they noticeably lose the crowd's attention with a 'Scarborough Fair'-type number that plays straight into the hands of those who see folk as little more than an anachronism, what follows it soon recaptures the ears of those whose focus has wondered to their organic tapas. The closing 'Kite Song' is a tender mini-epic that sounds somewhere between the Arcade Fire and Los Campesinos! Its coda of "Wind roar up and blow/Storm carry us home" is heartfelt, glorious and the kind of thing you'd want to soundtrack the more profound moments of your life were it a rites of passage indie flick.
Final act The Cedars take to the floor after a short raffle interlude (star prizes: a coffee grinder and pasta maker. CBGB this ain't). A predilection for The Cedars must be intrinsically linked to a liking of bluegrass, for it is to this sub-genre of country music the four piece are heavily indebted. While singer Chantal Hill cannot be faulted for her bawdiness ("In the words of Bob Geldof, give us your fucking money," she demands as she takes to the stage), it seems incongruous to hear a young (Northern?) Irish woman singing like she's necking moonshine on a porch in Mississippi in the forties.
While questions about relevance and appropriation of The Cedars' sound can be asked, the quality of Ms Hill's voice cannot be debated. Her solo performance of the bluesy lament 'Choke Chain' is nothing if not captivating. Neither can her bands ability to get the party started, with the lively 'Letter To A Lover' bringing the crowd to boogie for the first time and sending them home with their spirits, if not the elements that await them outside, a little less dampened.