JOSEPH KNIGHT, LAURIE ILLINGWORTH
JAM CAFÉ, NOTTINGHAM, 13.07.17
Are there candles in here? Nah, but it feels like there are. On a scale of 1 to bustling, we’re hitting a laid-back ‘4’, with punters grabbing their casual Thursday grapefruit-peach-infused-coffee-ale-malt-lychee-craft brews and laying down a comfortingly mild murmur of background murmur-age.
Things are shaping up pretty sweet, then, although we have actually arrived just after the first act has finished. Whoops. Apologies to Rory Cannon, but no fear, charming chap and headline act Joseph Knight assures us we missed a tidy performance.
Laurie Illingworth, “that’s L-a-u-r-i-e”, settles himself at his keyboard on stage with the air of a chap that’s been told his set can start anytime between now and next Tuesday, and that’s not a bad thing. He simultaneously carries a vibe that every microscopic adjustment of his setup is calculated, but if it was suspended from the ceiling he’d give it a crack anyway. It’s a reassuring and relaxed aura eminent of any seasoned pro and, oh boy, his music goes on to reflect this.
Delicately canoodling his keys, Laurie saunters through clustered chords, confidently allowing space between them to float out breathy, rich vocals. It’s a cosy sound. His deep voice packs some hefty resonance (is my chair moving? I think my chair’s moving) and really feels it’s strongest when crooning through his mid and lower ranges. Though sparingly and quite tastefully, fragile falsetto phrases are left to hang before melismatically drifting down.
Most of the set is made up of covers, with just one song, ‘Into The Light’, being an original composition. The song crescendo’s from the beginning of the piece right through to the end, building up suspense and momentum through gradual texture changes over a two-chord progression. Despite the obvious limitations of the instrumentation, Laurie conjures up a fist-pumping feel that begs for a ginormous release, with the pitch and intensity of his vocals edging upwards throughout. All the bones in our bods were anticipating Laurie belting out some passionately hoofing vocals and we were getting pretty gassed for it, but the song seemed to hit a premature ceiling and just missed out on busting through to the potential it promises so much of.
Laurie’s set carried a stylistic coherence and confidence in performance that suggests, despite just the one original piece, he has a strong awareness of what his sound is and how he wants to translate that to an audience. We’ll be keeping an eye out for his first original recordings hitting the ‘net, fo’ sho’.
It seems there is some kind of concentrated area of O2 on the stage tonight, as Joseph Knight cruises around with the same admirably laid-back approach to his predecessor. Before even considering his music or performance, a really remarkable thing to note about Joseph is the sense of ease he carries about himself. This lad is 18 years old, but he radiates a comforting, authentic aura that’s rare for someone so young. We’ve seen bazillions of local bands and artists awkwardly figuring themselves out in little venues like this, which is an important part of learning to perform, but it does feel a bit of a treat to be put at such ease right now by the kid JK.
Musically, then, what is really stand out about Joe is the tangible emotion conveyed in his voice. Cracks, breaks and wobbles are all delivered, deliberate and controlled, adding layers to his lyrics and contouring his melodies. Crooning out words of heartbreak over ambling, melancholic chord progressions is something that many singer-songwriters do, unconsciously condemning themselves to perpetual obscurity in cliché, but Joe shows us that when you know how to deliver the fuck out of those words, you can captivate your audience and make them feel every line. Third song, ‘Safer This Way’, carries a great example of Joe doing just this with the chorus line, “I lay my cards right out on the table, you don’t wanna play the game”. Dragging the phrase with rubato over harshly struck chords, he glides up into his falsetto before descending into grit, cracking down into his chest voice and bending notes into key from a semitone above. Oosh.
Joe rounds off his set with a song so new that it doesn’t yet have a title. He tells us he doesn’t usually play it but we’re glad he does, because his guitar playing in this song subtly distinguishes it from the rest of his set and promises motion in the development of his songwriting. Whereas much of his set is strummed through, with occasional moments of fingerpicking, ‘Lord Tracky McNewchoon’ (we’ll go with that as a working title) demonstrates a range of timbres that prick up our ears. The verse is fingerpicked in muted bursts, the pre-chorus opening up with the strings ringing out, the chorus picks up momentum and tension with a percussive, muted chug driving us through and the song finally opens up during the end chorus, with some full-on sexy uncensored strumming action taking us home. There’s nothing flashy going on technique-wise, we aren't seeing percussive booty slaps and avant-garde tapping motifs, but it’s a good show of how subtle timbral changes can add so much depth to a song.
The steamy climax to the set leaves us reflecting on what we’d rate as a seriously banging quality of performance for a little Notts cafe on a Thursday night. If either of these guys started a nationwide tour supporting an act like Jack Garrat or James Bay tomorrow, our ‘brows would stay firmly un-raised and we would be all like “yeah we knew these guys way before everyone else”. Oh shit the gig was free too. Good job, Jam Cafe, GJ.
Written by Harry Christopher