Words by Tony Allen.
Last week Londoners got another chance to see three more up-and-coming artists from the capital at BBC Introducing’s regular showcase. Originally scheduled for the start of the month, the Beast From the East put paid to the original show upstairs at the Lexington pub.
Thankfully, the weather was much kinder, if a bit overcast, on the rearranged date as the warm voices of Brooke Bentham, Nia Wyn and Etham returned to melt any remaining frost and heat up the moderately-full 200 capacity cult venue. The three artists each got 30 minutes to impress the talent scouts, interested locals and family members. In fact, none of the bill were London-born, all having travelled from elsewhere to pursue their musical ambition under the capital’s bright lights.
First up, South Shields native Brooke Bentham has been a London resident for a few years now, during which time she has actually built up the biggest discography of any of the artists on show with several singles and EPs under her belt. Appearing solo, holding a fetching turquoise electric guitar and wearing a pair of shocking red trousers, the most colourful thing on the stage was in fact Bentham’s hauntingly beautiful voice.
She appeared suitably alone and consumed by her music, shy until she really opened up her windpipe and let out the odd enormous, soulful, wounded yet strangely uplifting burst of noise. I Need Your Body was one of the highlights of her set, where Bentham brought to mind hints of Sharon van Etten in her considered, at-times mournful delivery. Bentham’s no-nonsense performance, focusing on the songs and their delivery closed with an, er, heavy Heavy and Ephemeral, another impressive vocal workout.
Next up was Llandudno-born Nia Wyn, the day after she helpfully informed her Instagram followers that she’d taken one of her cats to be neutered. Luckily, her performance showed a lot of balls and, like on her cat, there was certainly no bollocks in her set. Wyn was no more guttural than expected despite jousting with a throat infection in the weeks before the show, and was the only artist to be joined by an (excellent) band of Polly Murdoch on keys, drummer Adam Ayadi and bassist Matt Paterson. Kicking off with a couple of feisty unreleased tracks, Wyn moved on to Help Me, her best songwriting to date, addressing mental health. It sounded more urgent, imperfect and confrontational on stage, helped especially by the live drums.
Wyn possesses an incredible voice – you imagine she’d be on the first flight to Detroit if she’d come along during the sixties. Wyn’s voice is distinctively Welsh, but she’s been compared to a less poppy Paloma Faith with influences from her hero Amy Winehouse and her eclectic taste in current music from pop to grime, which seems fair.
George Ezra’s new album is so good because he realises that with a few hits the novelty of his voice has dulled and he needs to add intelligent songwriting and catchy music to the mix. Wyn, you see, seems to have pre-emptively tackled that problem. The band really came into their own on the night’s best tune, latest single Northern No Soul Town, with the bass and keys in particular giving it an expanded live sound. “Milk ain’t the only thing she snatched out of here…” snarled Wyn about a particular former Prime Minister. Her social conscience continued on an affecting new tune, called Crying, written in the aftermath of the Grenfell tragedy. Wyn closed with her best known number to date Do You Love Enough, a more personal tune, where she scraped at her guitar and growled sweetly (yes, that’s possible) into the mic at a deadweight partner.
Wyn recently recorded with Paul Weller, although we haven’t heard the results yet. The Modfather doesn’t invite mugs to the Black Barn, and a look at the artists he’s previously championed (Ocean Colour Scene, The Strypes, Toy, er… The Gramotones…??) puts Wyn in good company. I forgot afterwards to enquire after Nia’s feline friend, instead mumbling something nice about her music – needless to say, her half-hour was spot on – maybe even pushing pur-fect?
Etham just looks like a star-in-waiting. His chiselled chin and boyish good looks match the Home Counties lad’s self confidence on stage. His music isn’t bad either. His place of origin, Reading, was the closest of the evening’s turns so it’s natural that he had a good group of family and friends by the bar at the back of the cosy venue. Etham has clearly also built up a decent younger fanbase – a group of about eight teenage girls (they call themselves the “OG EthFam” on Twitter) were at the Lexington well before doors opened and quickly occupied the ‘front row’ of the venue’s not inconsiderable stage. One even brought him flowers which he gratefully received afterwards as he chatted jovially and gladly posed for pictures.
And no doubt it was the youth vote which has seen a recording of one of the set’s outstanding tracks Better Now reach well in excess of a million streams on Spotify. Etham was modest as he introduced it, but on stage it sounded polished and professional – you imagine any rough edges had been shorn off long ago.
Etham appeared alone tonight thanks to the indisposition of his regular keyboard player. With low lights and an acoustic guitar in hand, his set also included an emotional rendition of his best song Control which perhaps best displayed his sublime vocal range, and the unreleased fan-favourite (judging by the girls’ reactions, anyway,) 12:45, about those late-night thoughts. He closed with another unreleased number, the more poppy Future. Etham sounded as good as he looked, I only wish I’d asked him where his stage name comes from – the question’s been keeping me up ever since.
So what did we learn? All in their twenties, these three unique young British voices arguably all occupy different genres under the ‘singer-songwriter’ banner from alternative to soul to pop. Like many people at this sort of thing, I went for one artist (Wyn), and came away slightly in love with them all. It’s a cliché, but it may well only be a matter of time before they’re selling out their own headline shows at much bigger venues.
A word also for BBC Introducing. I’m often outraged at where the unpaid money from my dodged license fee goes or doesn’t go, but it’s hard to argue with these fun nights where hot young properties can gain proper gigging experience at a good venue, and us punters might unearth a gem (or three) for our seven quid. Get down to your local version, you never know what you might find…
Article by Tony Allen, you can follow Tony on twitter here.