Thursday, 16 December 2010

Johnny Flynn @ Shepherd's Bush

You know you're old when you're standing in the queue praying for a seat. In my defence, it's been a long and hangover-inducing week and I'm spent. Anyway, Johnny Flynn, God love him, is hardly the sort of performer who's enhanced by standing. It's music to sit down and read the Guardian to, maybe after a bracing country walk. It's pretty much a relief then, when I'm ushered into my squishy Shepherd's Bush chair. Happy as a pig in the proverbial, I sink in, G&T in hand (another sign that I'm secretly middle-aged) ready to party in as mild a way as possible – it's way past my bedtime.

Good job Johnny is in a far less weary mood, striding on stage beaming at the screams of adulation he's receiving. The girls love him and boy are they making it known, screeching so loudly that they've left behind 'loud' and entered into 'Beatlemania' decibel levels. It's like he's Matt blimmin' Cardle or something. Frankly, if they'd remembered to bring a spare pair of knickers he'd be swimming in them right about now. Not that he's a traditional sex symbol. Don't get me wrong, he's a real cutie, (all lantern jaw and Royal Family-style ruddy cheeks) but tonight he's unassuming, hiding behind slightly longer floppier hair than normal, dressed down in casual checked shirt and jeans like a grungy Kevin the Teenager. He's even bought his younger sister and band member Lily along for moral support, and as they hug and he introduces her, every woman in the place has the same thought – wouldn't he make a great father?

Certainly his progeny would inherit enough musical talent to drown a bag of kittens. As the night progresses he moves seamlessly from guitar to banjo to violin before whipping out his trumpet (easy!) to get a bit New Orleans swing on us. In between there's that voice, which he uses as an instrument in itself, wobbling it up and down the scales to communicate the emotional punch of his lyrics. Previously a touring Shakespearean thespian, Flynn has an actor's gift for timing, using dramatic pauses and stop-start vocals to emote his delivery in Oscar-winning style. Between songs though, he's less accomplished: shy, nervous and continually thankful for being allowed to play such a large venue. Perhaps he's happy that there's still a place for him in a world where the Mumfords have rather stolen his indie-folk crown. In his absence over the last few years, they've rather left him eating their dust. Still, no hard feelings; he invites Mumford's missus and his BFF Laura Marling on-stage for a collaboration.

Despite this, he seems to be keen to distance himself from their radio-friendly nu-folk. As a result, Flynn has gone more traditional with his new album and also slightly darker. Many of the songs sound like Neil Young plugged into 'rock' mode. Others go pretty old school and sound like something you'd hear at a crusty cider and folk festival in a tent that smelt of organic sausages and farmers. While the oldies are received with the loudest cheers, there is a sense that new tunes 'Kentucky Pill' and 'Barnacled Warship' could yet become classics. Those in the audience tonight seem keen to embrace the authentic side of folk and pretty much wet themselves any time one of the band picks up an obscure mandolin-like instrument. As the encore 'Tickle Me Pink' rolls round, I feel energised, the transformative power of folk whacking me round the chops and dragging me out of my stupor. I'm even bopping my head slightly. Who's ready for an after party?

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