I’m not sure if having an accidental shower in champagne at the start of an evening is a good omen or not, but I took it as one, and my hunch, it turns out, was right. It perhaps wasn’t quite so good for the poor guy who accidentally tipped his drinks tray spilling bottle, champagne flutes and all, on the landing above me as I was ascending the stars to the dining hall, but he didn’t seem overly peeved. How could he be? There was a crackling, electric atmosphere in the place, flushing out any frown time.
The idea of a ‘package night out’ where food, music and arrival drinks are all ‘taken care of’ could go wrong. It could have been a case of “Jack of all trades, master of none” but last nights package was more “Jakes of all trades, master of them all“. Jakes did have a little help though on the music front.
After a very agreeable antipasti platter with some of the finest strips of beef I’ve tasted in a long time, we pottered through to the music room – stepping from the domain of Jakes the food, to OntSofa, the music. Quality sound, subtle, understated but oh so cosy red red lighting and the laid back Master Of Ceremonies set the stage for the 4 musical acts of the evening. 3 girls, two guys and a smorgasbord of stringed instruments from the ukulele to the double bass.
First up, the smiley Rhiannon Mair from Essex who set the scene with a couple of catchy, skatty original numbers and a story of how her album was fan funded. Nice. Kind of a kickstarter project for music.
Next up the delicate and innocent 13 year old Billie Tweedle. The comparison has probably been made to Laura Marling before, but like Laura, Billie has an arresting, haunting brilliance way beyond her years – literally everyone in the room – the majority of the 50 strong sold out crowd was hanging on her every inflection.
Following on from Billie after a short break, was Fiona Bevan. Big smile, big songs, big charisma, big hair. An interesting character that I wish I’d spoke with longer at the end. An amazing singer songwriter, who can swim a mile in under 40 minutes and is indifferent about marmite (according to a tweet from headliner Antonio Lulic this morning). She’s defiantly a one off. She’s totally unique.
Antonio himself had a tough set of acts to follow. He’d brought out the big guns though in the form of the very cool double bassist John Parker who seems to be a none stop bass machine judging by the mindblowing, non stop bass schedule he described when I had a little natter with him. You’ll probably have heard some of his work – he’s one half of Nizlopi, the band that brought us the fabulous JCB song which got to number one in the UK singles chart back in 2005. A brilliant musician who has this genuine aura of loving every second of playing.
Antonio’s set was stand out great under his own merit – even if it was hugely enriched by the John on bass, his lyrics and variance were utterly entertaining. The North East twang gave the songs a rootsy, folky feel yet possessed an utterly contemporary, fresh edge.
Three out of the four acts from the night are currently touring together – Tonight Newcastle, then Nottingham and a handful of other dates dotted here and there. I was lucky enough to catch up with Antonio fresh off the stage – poor chap, I didn’t even give him a chance to grab a drink before I’d sat him down and started with the questions. Fascinating fella, as well as a great song smith, he was pretty much a walking blog article. Here’s my interview with him…
Q: What’s your impression of Harrogate?
It’s such a beautiful town, but everyone in Harrogate knows that – that’s why you’re here! But, the crowd was fantastic – I didn’t know what to expect because I’ve never been to any live music here, but just to come into such a warm environment and friendly crowd who are so attentive was great – really really good.
Q: So, you’ve worked with On’t Sofa before?
Yea – I met them when I was supporting Ed Sheeran on tour along with my friends Kal Lavelle and Ryan Keen. They’d contacted Ryan about doing a set for their YouTube channel and Kal and I ended up doing sets as well. We just kept in touch because they were such nice blokes and they did a really really good job of it. When I found out they were recording in London for the first time I was like, well – I wanna get involved in that.
Q Can you tell me a little bit more about Ed Sheeran ?
I have know Ed for, I guess about 4 years now since he was an up-and-coming singer songwriter. He used to crash on my friend Daryl’s sofa and my sofa and that kind of thing – he dedicated himself to playing all the gigs he could and he didn’t have a house in London so he just kind of sofa surfed his way round, and when he started picking up attention and getting bigger gigs he had a policy of bringing along the friends that he’d made on the London circuit with him. It was strange and brilliant – these thousands of person venues that we didn’t have the fan base to play for, but Ed was suddenly picked up and they all loved him and knew all his words – and he’d just been this guy that we knew in the pub and played guitar – which was nuts! It’s done wonders for my career musically as well everybody else’s.
Newcastle’s your next tour date – sort of home turf – you looking forward to it?
Yea – the North East in general is a weirdly quite a small place, but Newcastle’s always been ‘the big city’ so going back to Newcastle always feels like going home. I’ve got a nice, friendly close following in Newcastle. I’m playing a venue called the Cluney 2 [tonight] which is a fantastic room, a converted old theater and I’m really looking forward to it.
What is your creative process, the physical manifestation of recording a new idea?
Actually, it happens in two different modes – sometimes I’ll just be like walking home after a gig or going about my business and a lyric will pop into my head – now I don’t turn to a laptop or a pencil, I’ll turn to my phone. I have a private twitter account that’s set up just for snippets of lyrics and it’s great because it’s always in my pocket, it’s just there and it’s immediately backed up in the cloud. It’s date stamped, it’s location stamped so I know where and when it was that I came up with the idea. I’ve got this beautiful list of bits of lyrics and I can go back to, and pull those out and gell them together and figure out what I was trying to get at. I kind of have to obey my sub conscious in that context.
The other mode is sitting down with a guitar and starting to play something and then, all of a sudden, I’m writing a song. In some cases the lyrics just come out of nowhere. I’ve got a song called The Sound of the Girl Next Door, Singing and one called Sobering Up and they were songs that just happened in the space of an hour. They were written, I never had to go back to them or figure out what chords go with them, they just happened instantly.
Who was it that first made you think “I love music”?
I was introduced to Ani Difranco whilst at university by a housemate at the time. She’s an American singer songwriter. Quite political, very honest and forthright in her lyrics and a fantastic musician. She plays a tenor guitar, a baritone guitar and a regular acoustic guitar and that’s where I kind of pulled my instrumentation from. She definitely coloured me, musically. She prolific – she’s got like 21 albums or something and I can put any one of those on and enjoy it without thinking I should change the track now. She’s been a huge influence.
Can you tell me a little more about the guitars you tour with?
There’s a tenor guitar, which is a banjo neck on a guitar body really, then there’s a regular acoustic guitar with a pickup in it an then there’s the baritone guitar. That’s like a regular guitar really except it’s got all the strings tuned down. Instead of having a low E and a high E, it has a low B and a high B. You play it like a normal guitar but it’s just a lower sound. It’s fun because I compose these songs on different instruments and I don’t ever feel like transposing them into the normal guitar to make my life easier – I’ll be seen trundling through the rush hour of London tube with three guitars; one on my back and one on each arm. It’s messy!
You played SXSW last year. Was that your best festival experience?
South By South West was a big festival for me because it was so exotic. It involves digital arts and film making and music. It takes over the whole town. Every hotel room is filled, every spare room has someone sleeping in it and every bar in town has live music. It’s huge – it just destroys the town for a couple of weeks.
I also liked Latitude when I played there last year through my friend Peter Hepworth and the Blue Bus Tour and when Ed played Thetford Forest last year, Kal who was supporting him got myself and Fiona Bevan up to sing with her and there was about ten thousand people there. It was just nuts looking out at that many people standing there in the rain, in the evening, loving it. It was a crazy crazy feeling. I’d love to be ‘up there’ performing.
I get the feeling, he’s got a good chance or realising that dream.
Big thanks to Antonio for his time – a proper nice gentleman, with a gift.