581506_10150636434812791_1710222594_n– THE DEAF INSTITUTE, MANCHESTER –

Roughly 4 years ago, I conceived an article extolling the virtues of the burgeoning folk scene. It would focus on 4 bands, namely, in order of quality, Laura Marling, Johnny Flynn, Noah and the Whale, Mumford & Sons. It didn’t get written largely because I’m a bit of a flakey bastard, but I can’t help but feel vindicated in my laziness. On the basis of one decent song, Mumford & Sons have become one of the world’s biggest bands (obviously knitwear lovers are more numerous than previously thought) despite peddling the twee-ist, treacliest, schmultziest shit since Boo the dog was forced into a tuxedo (google it with sick bag(s) at the ready!).

Despite a promising start, Noah and the Whale have reinvented themselves as an equally plodding and laborious pop act with increasing and baffling success. Laura Marling remains critically loved, but that cannot mask the fact that her latest two album have disappointed. Leaving us with Johnny Flynn who has just returned from an acting hiatus where he has worked opposite Anne Hathaway and done a load of Shakespeare. But then he always was the maverick. In a scene consisting of poshos he remains the most affectedly silver-spooned, the one with the broadest pallette, and arguably, the most talented. He is also the most idiosyncratic with lyrics that are both witty and enigmatic; it is this more than anything else that has seen him fall behind the scene. I wonder, then, if he reflects on his comparative lack of success with bitterness, or if he sees it as the natural outcome of having too many fingers in too many pies? Despite being out of the game for a while, the fact that he’s playing a sold out show at The Deaf Institute is proof that, though he has not come close to scaling the dizzying heights of Mumford and Sons, he has still managed to maintain a broad fan base – no mean feat, and one by which he appears genuinely touched.

Flynn is alone on stage, and quite at ease. Certainly, as he works his way through his set, one could not guess that he has been away at all. I am always particular impressed by the style of his guitar playing where the strength of the melodies vie with his vocals for dominance. ‘The Wrote and The Writ’, for instance, demonstrates this perfectly, and it is one of the night’s highpoints. Still, without The Sussex Wit, his AWOL backing band, there are times when the songs fail to carry their usual weight. I anticipate the arrival of the drums on ‘The Wrote and The Writ’, and when they don’t arrive I can’t help but feel a little unsatisfied. Later, ‘The Water’ lacks its usual punch (though it’s still amazing!) without the harmony parts, on record sung by Laura Marling – is there a better guest vocalist, and is there a finer new-folk moment? On the other hand, an unadorned version of ‘Been Listening’ has never sounded better, delivered, as it is, with exceptional intimacy. The room hushed, the lights go down, and for a moment it feels like the whole world is standing still. ‘Lost and Found’ and ‘Leftovers’ are both excellently played and welcomely received, but the crowning pinnacle of the night is ‘Tickle Me Pink’ with its final refrain, “Pray for the people inside your head / for they won’t be there when you’re dead / muffled out and pushed back down / pushed back through the leafy ground”, which is sung with surprising precision and enormous satisfaction and delight by the audience.

Perhaps ‘Tickle Me Pink’ encapsulates Flynn’s problem microcosmically. It’s a funny, wonderfully written song, but it’s also just a little too frivolous for some. Most people seem to prefer their music with a heavy dose of mock, melodramatic earnestness a la Mumford and Sons. This should be depressing, but Johnny Flynn is so pleased to be back playing music again, that it’s impossible to dwell on this. And let’s face it, us music snobs always prefer an artist who is ignored by the majority and known and loved by a small few.

Chris Gilliver

I started out writing for the Manchester Evening News as a freelance journalist back in 2008. The idea that I would be given free access to music and gigs seemed somehow miraculous to me, and I proceeded to take full advantage of the situation. When the M.E.N. decided to constrict its coverage to only the very biggest bands, Simon Poole approached me with a plan to make sure that all the very talented musicians of this world that pass through and/or live in Manchester would not go unnoticed. As the New Releases editor here at Silent Radio Towers, it remains my proud duty to cast a critical eye over the music and reviews that come my way in a manner that is both supportive and fair. Above all, I strive to write as entertainingly possible. Favourite musicians include the Pixies, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Mercury Rev, Os Mutantes, The Knife, Beach House etc etc. I'm a firm believer that all genres (except nu-metal) contain music of great quality...