Deepest Dalston – where hipsters lurk behind every chip shop/tattoo parlour. I’m always a bit wary of gigs around there, worried I’ll be overwhelmed by a bearded and brogued buttoned-up brigade of the cooler than cool and the trendier than the trend you haven’t heard of yet.
However, last night my fears were completely unfounded and I was instead treated to a beautiful evening at the Servant Jazz Quarters, organised by up-and-coming singer/songwriter Ralegh Long and Gare Du Nord, the label he founded this year with Rotifer frontman Robert Rotifer and Ian Button, who releases under the name Papernut Cambridge.
It was one of the loveliest events I’ve attended in a long time, the tiny but thoroughly charming venue playing host to three generations of musicians who are all connected via good intentions and have an obvious mutual admiration for each other – Darren Hayman, John Howard, and Long himself. It was an unpretentious, genuine, joyful night of music.
Not knowing much of any of them previously, I went along as Neon Filler’s representative, as the site is a champion of all three acts and played a small part in connecting Long and Howard via email, something Howard acknowledged on the night.
Darren Hayman, formerly of 1990s indie band Hefner and now a prolific solo artist, opened with his thoughtful, articulate, funny and sincere songs, which reminded me a bit of an English Neil Young, but quirkier. Just him and his guitar, he played impeccably, his lyrics sweet and honest. Highlights included I Know I Fucked Up, from his 2012 January Songs album and originally recorded with vocals from Allo Darlin’s Elizabeth Morris. Another was I Taught You How To Dance, from 2011’s The Ship’s Piano. I’ll definitely be looking up more of his solo work, as I think there’s a lot more for me to learn here.
And then there was John Howard, and all I could think was ‘THIS is how it’s done’. I swiftly realised we were in the presence of an old-school master. Once touted as the next big thing his is a story of the almost made it, a tale of the machinations of the music industry, dropped in the 1970s, only to experience a resurrection since the early 2000s, that has included influencing emerging artists like Long.
His are piano-driven pop ballads that I would liken to early Elton John with a bit of Bowie. The songs have a slight glam, show-tunes touch, but they don’t feel dated or twee – instead, it’s mood-enhancing music with a story to tell, songs that you feel you’ve known your whole life. And he’s also just such a nice man. He played from classic album Kid in a Big World, and tunes from new album Storeys, telling tales from a block of flats. He also covered Bowie’s The Bewlay Brothers so perfectly, to my utter delight. That was the highlight of a set, that also featured Rotifer, Button and Acid Jazz man Andy Lewis as his backing band.
Howard’s influence is evident in Ralegh Long’s work, during a set that was packed full of melodic, sweeping songs, that were lifted with the help of his great band that included pedal steel played by another ex-Hefner man Jack Hayter. But it’s the piano that takes centre stage again, beautifully done, stirring stuff.
With indie music too often guitar focused, it was really refreshing to have the piano front and centre for an evening. Long more than lived up to the ‘one to watch for 2013’ tag were thrust upon him earlier this year as he played from his most recent EP The Gift and his soon-to-be-released debut album.
In all, a great night of wonderful music by a collection of musicians in the great spirit of influencing each other and helping each other. Feel good factor 50.
By Patricia Turk