Spirit of John are Joshua Sheard (guitar/vocals) and Adam Richards (double-bass/vocals) and between them they cut a fairly mischievous figure up on the stage of ‘The Brude’ tonight. The fact that they are an eleventh hour addition only adds to the feeling that they may have snuck in through an unguarded back door rather than been formally asked to perform.
It’s been a while since I’ve seen anyone play a guitar with so much vigour that it becomes more like a percussion instrument at times – even longer since I’ve seen somebody physically abuse a double-bass – and I had forgotten how entertaining both these things could be. The sound they hurl into the room causes a grubby ho-down feel almost immediately. Sheard rattles off his rasping, melodic vocals in a way that makes it feel like we are in the ‘Youth and Young Manhood’ era of Kings of Leon and Caleb Followill is doing covers of Bob Dylan.
Several songs in, fiddler and Irish man, Kieren O’Malley, climbs on stage to add a bit more depth and frantic phrasing to the mash of pounding folkiness that is, by this point, getting the crowd well and truly up for the rest of the evening.
It is rough around the edges and brilliant.
The Paper Aeroplanes’ entrance was a subtle one and straight from the off their music is a much less rugged affair. They have been touring with Ellen & the Escapades this year and, like the headline act tonight, they have an album out – ‘We Are Ghosts’.
Singer Sarah Howells’ voice is a gentle, wispy thing at times – the sort of voice that didn’t really exist until Dido came and went – but at others it is allowed to rise up from behind the security of the guitar she’s strapped to and fill the room. It is a voice that definitely conveys what’s behind the lyrics, and is pretty much flawless through the entire set.
The music that accompanies that voice is pretty solid American teen drama stuff – acoustic guitar with some mandolin melodies dusted on top (provided by the second half of this Welsh duo, Richard Llewellyn). Imagine the montage in One Tree-nine oh two one-Creek where you are shown the fallout from some sort of love triangle, or maybe a mobile phone advert involving people in floaty skirts populating a pastel-coloured city, then imagine the sounds you would expect to accompany that. It is all very non-offensive and delivered, technically, very well. But for all the feeling put into that voice, the complete package doesn’t seem to hit the mark.
It’s the eve of the release of Ellen and the Escapades’ first album, ‘All the Crooked Scenes’, their ‘Escapale’ brew has been flying out of the pumps and acrossLeeds there are beer mats promoting both the beer and the album. They are very nearly the finished article. They know where they all fit in around each other as far as the performance is concerned and they play their part in each song like a well-oiled machine. It is fairly evident that they are about to take that next step on the road to success.
The audience stand watching Ellen Smith lead her band of, if the grins being flashed are anything to go by, merry men through their set. There are keyboards (Chris Quick) and guitars (Jeff Schneider) going through a sizeable effects rack as well as swelling vocal harmonies, all combining to give the feeling of being in the presence of professionals.
The sound itself is a blend of country and soft 70’s rock. The occasional nod to the guitar signatures and texturing of Coldplay sneaks through as well, but the overall feeling is that when all five members of the Escapades get involved they start to edge into the gap left by Fleetwood Mac, Andy Calder’s bass and James Warrender’s drums setting good foundations for the layers to be added by the others.
The set starts with some more stripped down-style songs though – they are simpler and show off Smith’s voice well. Close your eyes and you could be lead to believe that she once shared the same egg as Nora Jones.
The cover of Tears for Fears’ ‘Everybody Wants to Rule the World’, later in the evening, sits a bit awkwardly, but probably only because it is a departure from the tone of the rest of the show. Despite this blip the set builds and peaks right at the end with the last few songs sounding increasing large leaving me thinking that the future of this Leeds five-piece is looking pretty rosy.