Coldplay, Emeli Sande, Ben Howard, Michael Kiwanuka
Mencap's Little Noise Sessions, St John-at-Hackney Church
added: 26 Nov 2011
// gig date: 24 Nov 2011
reviewer: Max Geraghty
Mencap’s Little Noise Sessions were back last week for their 6th year running. Curated by Mencap ambassador Jo Whiley and taking residency at the near- ancient St John-at-Hackney church, there were 6 nights of intimate acoustic sets from a variety of artists in aid of the eponymous learning disability charity. Music-news made it down to the Thursday night session to find a rather well known rock band leading a star struck audience in an intimate sing-a-long. Yes, the stadium rockers Coldplay – well 2 of them, and fortunately including Chris Martin – headlined the night and had the small crowd of not much more than a 1000 firmly held in the palm of their hands.
But more of that later. Firstly the other acts, starting with the soulful Michael Kiwanuka. He’s been likened to Otis Redding and Bill Withers which is a far cry from the Radiohead/Nirvana influenced rock bands that he first cut his teeth on. St John-at-Hackney church has stood since the late 1700’s and makes for an elegant venue. A little bigger to Union Chapel in Islington with more standing space, but with the smell of mulled wine wafting amongst the pews it felt almost as cozy. But, like with most churches of this size and up, there is a huge amount of reverb and Michael’s sincere, heart-on-sleeve performance was partly drowned by the chat of the crowd that was amplified by the cavernous ceiling.
Ben Howard, with a three-song set, followed in similar vein. Comparisons to Bon Iver and the like are of course inevitable, and his skilled guitar work using alternate tunings creates a wonderful depth. He grew up in Devon influenced by the late, great John Martyn and the like. Though Ben doesn’t share Martyn’s tone of voice, it’s easy to hear the echoes of his inspiration amongst the song writing. (I tell ya. If I could spend my days surfing and writing songs as good as these I’d be pretty content).
In the change over to get the stage ready for the next artist a certain fluorescent coloured painted piano appeared almost magically as if beamed down from some stratospheric rock palace in the sky. That got the crowd a chattering and eagerly anticipating tonight’s headliners. But before that, a change of style but not of mood with Scottish R&B artist Emeli Sande. More than just a performer, she has written for a number of other artists including Leona Lewis, Cheryl Cole and Susan Boyle, even lauded by Simon Cowell, who recently said that she was his favourite songwriter of the moment. Again a soulful set of love songs followed from a talented artist with a strong voice. But I must confess; I spent much of the time wondering how much Chris Martin’s piano would one day fetch at auction when they’re all old and grey.
Then it was time for Jonny Buckland and Chris Martin and to rapturous delight they took the stage. There then followed a wonderfully down-to-earth performance from two guys now used to the REALLY big time. With a string of classics - Yellow, Viva la Vida, The Scientist, Clocks, Every Teardrop, Paradise - and an audience belting out every word they delivered a relaxed set brimming with joie de vivre and plenty of lighthearted humour. Martin didn't mind the false starts, mistakes or interruptions, and without the rest of the band his piano playing shone.
One such interruption came from a lady who had brought along her tamborine (I guess in the knowledge of the absence of a rhythm section?!). At the start of The Scientist she started shaking it just a tad out of time and with the church acoustics amplifying her every disrhythmic jingle it wasn't long before Martin called a stop to the song and albeit politely - but with the wit of a comedian returning a heckle - gave the lady a little chatisement. Still he eased any tension by sneaking into the outro of The Scientist a little ditty - 'if I would choose a drum machine, then it would be a tamborine.' Mind you, it didn't stop her shaking that damn thing! (and it made me wonder whether there might be a few sneaked into the Emirates and the Stadium of Light next year...)
For the encore Martin and Jonny played Shiver together on guitars before the final sing-a-long with Fix You. All in all, a real treat. Some mellow, relaxed performances from the support, and a wonderfully close and real performance from one of the biggest pop-rock bands in the world.
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