Nestling just south of Regents Park, 229 The Venue was a new one to me.
It turned out it was easy to find, provided you could stagger out of Great Portland Street tube – it’s literally across the road. Tonight it found itself host to the latest in a series of Time Out magazine sponsored events promoting the very best the capital has to offer in currently unsigned talent.
From the outside and foyer, the building projected an ambience akin to a local benefit office. Descend the stairs and the vibe is marginally though not entirely helped through use of some faux brick columns and arches. To be honest, it’s not the Cavern Club, and given that the Cavern Club is not the Cavern Club, that’s saying something. The most noteworthy aspect of 229 The Venue though was the height of the stage, for which I can only assume the performers were given vertigo disclaimers to sign before they took foot. You could probably get a decent view from the back of this place if the floor sloped downwards. And it’s a big floor – around the size of your local municipal swimming pool. At 7.20 when I pitched up the basement still needed a lot of filling. The place did fill though. Rapidly.
There were five artists on the over height stage tonight. First up, we had Emily and The Three Pete’s Suite, a clever moniker for a band comprised of singer/songwriter Emily Capell plus a bassist, drummer and trumpet player, all called Pete. Singing jazz and blues inflected indiepop tales, Capell had an infectious sense of humour that was drier than a bucket of cream crackers. Emily told us that she ‘bloody loves’ Kanye West and Danny Dyer. Does she? It seemed hard to believe somebody that sassy could actually bloody love either of those people, but it was genuinely hard to tell. She introduced her final song ‘Bonanza’ as “The name of the plane that Buddy Holly died in, but let’s keep it upbeat guys!” Capell was a great opening artist and definitely somebody I’d cross town to see again.
Next to face the nosebleed challenge was David Stewart, the only solo performer tonight whose acoustic guitar and vocal made for an engaging listen. David worked a four-year stint as guitarist for dance act Example and over the past 18 months he has been writing and recording in Atlanta and Los Angeles. He’s now gigging all over London with brand new material and a brand new sound. He’s still happy to play the odd cover though. “Do you mind if I get a little sexy for a bit?”, he asked before embarking on Destiny’s Child’s ‘Survivor’. Stewart finished with original song ‘Smells Like Money’, which was dangerously infectious and reminded me a little of Mungo Jerry in his heyday.
Next up; East London psychedelic gothic blues rock four-piece Saint Agnes. Fronted by the captivating raven-haired Kitty Austen, Saint Agnes were a revelation. Their position at the mid-point of the lineup ensured maximum audience engagement though Austen didn’t say a word to the crowd at any point. It all added to the slightly creepy Adams Family shtick of the performance. Saint Agnes’ new single ‘Sister Electric’ drops on June 17th and they perform a headline single release show at Hoxton Square Bar and Kitchen on that date. I’d strongly encourage people check them out. Just ensure there’s room left for me.
The Saint Agnes performance was a head-turner and there was still a whiff of anti-climax in the air when Lynne Jackaman arrived centre stage around fifteen minutes later. It didn’t take long for Jackaman to blow that away. I was primarily here for this; I missed Lynne’s recent performance at Soho’s broiling basement, The Borderline but have read only wildly enthusiastic reviews. Flanked by Quireboys stalwarts Guy Griffin on guitar and Nick Mailing on bass, Jackaman and her eponymously titled band tore through a set of the finest Rock ‘n’ Soul you’re ever going to hear. The full gamut of her vocal range was explored; at times smoky, sultry, sexy – at times vocal-chord shatteringly powerful. It was a performance that turned heads – hopefully those of a few of the record industry moguls hugging the periphery of the room.
Last up tonight were London rock band The Second Sons. I felt a little sorry for them. Under normal circumstances, the ‘headline’ final slot would be the one to aspire to, but in reality the headline performances had already been and gone and with them the vast majority of the audience. The Second Sons were also a slightly odd band to look at. Singer Nick Harding is an alumni of the Mick Jagger school of stagecraft, though unfortunately what they don’t tell you on campus is that only Jagger can get away with it. Harding’s brother, Chris occupied the stage left guitar spot and had a similarly vintage look. There was a bit of the Jeff Beck’s about him. This was in stark contrast to the guitarist stage right, who played some great slide but was a doppelgänger for Clark Kent. Thank goodness there were no stray phone boxes on the floor.
The Second Sons played some nice material and were an engaging watch but I missed the end of their slot for fear of not getting home. One day, the people who timetable London’s public transport will appreciate that the interesting stuff happens more than five minutes away from Waterloo. Still, at least the stagger to the tube was mercifully short.
The Time Out Rising Stars events occur regularly through the year and are a recommended addition to London’s musical landscape. Upcoming events are as follows:
June 21st @ The Jazz Cafe Camden
July 5th @ 229 The Venue Great Portland Street
September 13th @ 229 The Venue Great Portland Street