As I walk down into the dusky basement of the Soup Kitchen I can feel the goodwill in the room. It’s been nearly six months since I Am Blackbird have played in their hometown and, by the looks of it, their loyal local following have missed them.

After a self-imposed exile to the studio, tonight is the second in a series of comeback gigs for the five-piece band. Lead singer Jon Baldwin may have hoped for a decent turnout after orchestrating a brief Facebook campaign, but he’s clearly a bit taken aback by the love in the room.

Drinkers skulking in the dimly-lit cubby holes at the back of the basement creep forward to join the throng of fans clustered in an orderly semi-circle in front of the band as they open up into Friend or Foe. With fairy-lights twinkling on the drum kit providing most of the illumination, there’s a really warm, intimate atmosphere.

The fact that there’s no stage, which isn’t exactly ideal for a music venue, just means that the audience have to gather closer or stand on tables and chairs to get a peak of Jonny and his cello-playing sidekick Estelle Mann as they feel their way into the opening number. Bass player Ben Price and drummer Charlie Garson lay down the Americana rhythms that guide Jonny and Estelle, while the solos of guitarist/organist Joe Rose dance around them.

Their sound blends the early rock and roll of the Mississippi delta and the folk rock tunes of the 70s LA scene with a touch of Mancunian cynicism. The on-stage chemistry between Jonny and Estelle give the band illusive electricity, while Jon’s agitated vocals provide a refreshing, sinister edge.

From a decent vantage point at the start, leaning on one of the two pillars partially blocking the view of the baying crowd, I am slowly edged out by young females, eager to get a closer look, as the gig progresses. New material helps to build up the energy in the room, before loyal fans let loose to One Good Reason, chanting back the chorus. An unnerving gargling organ intro opens up Take the Money and Run and the crowd is well and truly in the moment now.

After another favourite, Setting Sun, the band crank it up even more into Love Don’t Mean a Thing, another new song, which builds and builds into an angry vocal crescendo. The pain in Jonny’s voice as he screams out the final notes is disarming, belying a hidden passion that is clearly attractive to the female fans in the front row, who are edging to within touching distance of the singer. His lyrics give the impression of an unrequited love, but the anger that comes out of an otherwise mild-mannered bloke could just as easily be frustration at the band’s slow-burning success.

The fact that a group of musicians so clearly talented are still juggling day jobs as they strive for their big break is pretty galling – if not all too familiar – when you consider what makes it into the charts.

It all kicks off in the finale, This Town, the most raucous number in the band’s armoury. The crowd is once more chanting back the chorus of I Am Blackbird’s most recent EP, which was produced by Stephen Fretwell and released last summer. The energy in the room finally spills over as a couple of lairy blokes break ranks to start a jig in front of Jonny, who is quickly shrouded and surrounded by dancing fans.

As This Town, which to be fair would not be out of place at a hoedown, comes to a close, the band seem overwhelmed by the response. Not quite knowing what to expect, Jon admits he would have been happy if 40 people turned up, rather than the 100-or-so fans he is now thanking for making it a great night.

Absence may make the heart grow fonder I suppose, but there is a real celebratory feel in the room, so much so that a total stranger standing next to me feels the need to start up a conversation just to share the experience.

“This is the first time I’ve seen this lot – they are fucking brilliant,” he eloquently puts it.

“I’ve seen loads of local bands, but none of them can touch these guys. They just need a fucking break. It’s criminal.”

Well said, I’ll second that.

Set list:

Friend or Foe

Long Time Coming

Wishful Thinking

Take the Money and Run

One Good Reason


Setting Sun

Love Don’t Mean a Thing

This Town


I Am Blackbird’s next gig will be at the Deaf Institute on Tuesday, November 15. More details can be found at their new website, http://www.iamblackbird.com/