Lydia Baylis/Van T/Jasmine Rodgers/Michelle O Faith at The Finsbury, London
I had been itching to get back to The Finsbury…
ever since putting up four acts there last year – including Saints Patience and SALT. With that in mind, it was great being back in the north London bar for another night of terrific music. Special thanks go to Chris Sharpe and Lost in the Manor for not only putting it all together but allowing me another chance to stage some fine musicians. That is not to say the last event went badly – it was a fantastic night – but one, especially a non-professional journalist, is not often afforded such patronage and faith. Speaking of faith – me and my slick wordplay – I shall come to a certain ‘Michelle’ soon. The scene was very much set: a warm and near-spring-like evening was enveloping a part of London normally engulfed in a variety of different scents – it is certainly one of the most ‘vivid’ and aromatic parts of the capital. I like the area – around Finsbury Park – as it offers a slice of ‘real’ London. Earlier in the day, and marked contrast to the environs of The Finsbury, I was standing outside Harrods in Knightsbridge. There, basking in the genial warmth of the afternoon, was a multi-genre saxophonist who switched through various styles to enthral the agog collective. Many were circling and still; captivated by the music and funky sounds. By the time last night’s gig started, I had seen every side of London and the contrasts it offers. The idea behind the night was to showcase female singers only: something I have been meaning to do for a long time now - I hope I am allowed a third night because the events of last night have left an indelible smile.
The first act of the night was someone I have been eager to meet for a while: the charming and ever-lovely Lydia Baylis. In the course of reviewing and interview, I (unfortunately) do not get a chance to meet artists face-to-face so was great to meet Lydia and her band. It is hard not to be struck and awed by her: someone incredible genial, pleasant and warm; radiant and incredibly bright too. I would love to meet her again in the future as I was bowled over a little bit by her (and have a little music crush now). Speaking with her, she explained how new material was in-the-works and it has been a while since new stuff has come out. When she hit the stage, there was no sense of nerves or any doubts. Launching into a wonderful and passionate set; from an aesthetic viewpoint, I saw little bits of London Grammar. With the keys and percussion (drum pads and electronic beats) it was almost like watching Hannah Reid and her bandmates. In a sense, Lydia showed she had the same sort of power and beauty as Reid – albeit a lot more warmth and ability to engage with a crowd. Her beaming smile and alluring voice got the crowd uplifted and seduced from the very start. She is one of my favourite artists because you get a real sense of someone who was meant to be in music. Throughout the set, Lydia and her band ran through some wonderful material that had The Finsbury’s patrons hooked and stunned. In terms of stage presence, she managed to turn the small pulpit into her own space. A couple of her faithful followers were in attendance and offered warm applause – as did the rest of the crowd – after every number. It was great to hear Lydia in the flesh and that incredible music up-close. In terms of sound, it is hard to compare her with anyone else: it is Electro.-Pop and Soul but delivered from a very personal place. Lydia is someone I am keen to work with more in the future as she left her mark on the crowd for sure – providing a wonderful set and showing why she is one of the most promising young artists around.
PHOTO CREDIT: Callen Jefferson
Whilst many of us only had to tackle the London Underground – Lydia coming from the Victoria area, I believe – that was not the case with Van T. The South African-based artist (Chantal Van T) had only a short time in London – making it a huge honour she played The Finsbury. Having arrived in the country early yesterday morning; she only had a short space of time to perform with her band. That ‘band’, I am not sure, they have played a lot before. Despite the short rehearsal time; it was great to hear the trio play – the set contained vocals, bass and electric guitar. It was quite a stripped-back and lo-fi compositional showcase that very much focused on Chantal’s voice. That voice, like Lydia’s, is impossible to compare and contained so many emotions and sides. Being such a young singer, many would have forgiven the South African for replicating modern Pop stars and going for something quite easy and common. Van T’s set was a striking and mesmeric as one could imagine. Chantal’s voice switched between sweet and child-like to raw and empathetic: never missing a beat and sounding completely natural at every stage. Showcasing some newer material – there will be more in the future – you got a sense of an artist that should spend a lot more time in the U.K. The Cape Town resident – her fellow band members, for the night, hailed from Germany – and provided a cosmopolitan, multi-cultural show that went down extremely well with the audience. She is soon to depart for home and really impressed the audience with her natural stage presence and warmth. Speaking with her before (and after) the set, it was clear Chantal has huge affection for London and wants to perform more here. With Cape Town being less busy and appealing for musicians; I predict Van T will be back in town in the coming months. In any case, the beautiful and powerful showcase left very few in doubt: an artist with a big future and incredible voice.
If Jasmine Rodgers’ trip to The Finsbury was shorter and less continent-hopping; her set was no less emphatic and memorable. Armed with her acoustic guitar and ukulele: she was the only ‘solo’ artist of the night. Again, this was the first time I met her but was completely awed – you get the impression of someone falling for every female musician they meet – by her humour, personality and grace. Coming from Brixton, where there are plenty of great live spaces, it was clear Jasmine has a great bond with the city and a magnificent stage presence to go with it. Blood Red Sun, Jasmine's current album, was one of my favourite from last year; moments from it played on the north London stage. Her set featured the incredible hit Icicles and some of her finest material. In the between-song pauses, she provided jokes – that gained a respectful amount of mirth and laughter – and sounded completely at-one with the audience. Again, there were people in the venue definitely there to see her. Catching up with Jasmine before the set; she explained how new material was coming and future gigs approaching. She is a musician I have enormous respect for and is definitely one of my ‘artists to watch’ this year. There are few that have such an ability to leave a crowd silent with little more than acoustic strings. Her evocative and emotionally-rich lyrics get inside the mind whilst her stunning voice and incredible musicianship leave you wanting more. That is very much the sensation on the night: a lot of people could have listened to her play for a long time after that. Owing to the set times and limitations, Jasmine certainly left her mark and, I hope, will get a lot of people racing to hear her songs. It is rare finding a musician that has humility and affection with no ego and pretence. Jasmine is one of the most ego-less artists I have met and wins your heart with her balance of exceptional songs and charisma. I, like many in attendance, naturally gravitated to her were gripped by her set. I hope to see Jasmine at other gigs and she is someone I am eager to review again very soon. I am excited to think what is to come for her and how far she can go.
Ending the night was Michelle O Faith and her band. Unlike Lydia, Jasmine and Van T; this set contained heavier percussion and was the most direct and hard-hitting performance of the night. Michelle is someone who delivers big and bold songs intended to get heads nodding and bodies moving. I met her (and her mother: a lovely lady) at the gig and loved finding out more about her and what she has been up to. Birthday Blues is her current E.P. and she showcased material from that collection. The title track and Lemonade were songs that got big reactions and were matched with incredible performances by everyone on that stage. Michelle herself is someone who has a personal and professional persona. In person, she is this sweet and intelligent young woman who you could listen to for hours – interesting to hear and filled with kindness and passion. On stage, she adorns a blue wig and is one of the most physical performers I have seen. Completely involved with the music and the lyrics; Michelle made great use of the intimate stage and ensured the crowd got a memorable performance. Michelle, throughout her songs, employed a lot of movement and emotions and proved she is an extremely natural and incredible performer. She and the band had a terrific kinship and produced a tight and professional set that, again, was received with warm applause and impressive whistles (the crowd was particularly energetic and supportive after every song). I know Michelle will go on performing and play larger stages so it was great hearing her play The Finsbury. Her was a headline set few will forget and ensured the February Sunday evening was ended with a bang. In listening to her, I got little hints of singers like Adele and Beyoncé. In terms of persona, physicality and command; one can draw comparisons between her and Beyoncé – there is that similar blend of sexuality and vulnerability in her music that makes me think of the U.S. legend. Let’s hope there is more material from Michelle O Faith this year as she is a terrific artist with plenty more to say. I can see her playing festivals stages in years to come: seeing her in smaller spaces like The Finsbury was a real treat.
PHOTO CREDIT: Anne Campbell
Aside from a few noisy patrons – Chris having to have a quiet word with one or two – that were a bit chatty during the songs – and blues (ambulance) lights flashing past the window every few minutes (it is north London after all) – it was a fantastic and successful night from four different and amazing acts. Each artist stood out and created an incredible and evocative performance. Whilst each had different merits and styles; they came together extraordinarily well and gelled. I know the girls were meeting each other for the first time and seemed to strike a natural and warm bond. On stage, it was great seeing this quartet of female singers perform some fantastic songs. I know 2017 will be an eventful and busy one for each of the artists and I am excited to follow them all. Thanks again to Chris and Lost in the Manor (and to my ever-faithful gig companion, Adrian) and The Finsbury for a fantastic setting last night. It is a small space but one filled with atmosphere and potential. Every performer gave an incredible show of themselves and, in turn, received a lot of love from the audience. I am keen to do this again and always love coming to The Finsbury. Until such time, and whatever form that takes; a huge thanks to the artists that came and played last night. Truly, it was a gig that will…
NOT be forgotten in a hurry.