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Johnny Flynn and the Sussex Wit at Birmingham Glee Club 30/1/08

Birmingham Glee Club
30th January 2008

Fresh from supporting the likes of Jack Penate and Iron & Wine, Johnny Flynn and the Sussex Wit are back, this time on a small headlining tour. The rich, old-style folk sounds are often at odds with his youthful good looks, but luckily his voice is a good one and so this is easily overlooked. The well-heeled storytelling and imagery in Flynn’s musical tales are certainly more audibly akin to Iron & Wine than Penate and Flynn’s backing band do a fine job of supporting the tales with fantastic music.

The short support slot comes from nineteen year-old Londoner Jay Jay Pistolet. A mere four songs long Pistolet seems awkward on stage, blaming this on the coke and Vanilla ice-cream from Whetherspoons, but more likely it’s to be the closeness of the audience. It’s a terrible shame that his set is so short, his voice is deeper than Flynn’s and he sings with the same richness which seems to be coming from the more populist female singers from London. Pistolet’s rich voice fits in well with the simplistic acoustic guitar he plays. His few songs seem to lament over love lost, emphasised on the fantastic song ‘Stuck On Us’. It really would have been nice to have a longer set from Pistolet, but these four songs were a good introduction to his music.

The hour long set from Johnny Flynn and the Sussex Wit is also on the short side, but the numerous songs and constant instrument switching makes it feel longer. It is almost possible that Flynn and his band could play any instrument thrown at them, playing anything from a fiddle to a flute. Each of the four core members play at least three instruments throughout the set, leading to a diverse sound all rooted in a traditional folk sound, but moving into Celtic folk with the aid of the fiddle. Flynn’s voice perfectly spins situations and stories, with the addition of his sister on backing vocals adding melancholic layers to the songs.

However the real problem at this gig is the venue itself. The Glee Club is perfect for comedy, a small intimate venue, which allows comedians to interact with its audience, but for a music venue its intimacy is intimidating – as admitted by Jay Jay Pistolet. You get the feeling that Johnny Flynn and the Sussex Wit would also have more to say between songs if it weren’t for the fact the audience wasn’t literally stepping over the set to get the bar. The drummer and Flynn do try and banter, but the awkwardness of the setting is obvious. It’s a shame, for a venue that brings rising talent to the second city, it seems to scare them off.

Excluding the lack of banter and the swiftness of the performances, both Jay Jay Pistolet and Johnny Flynn and the Sussex Wit show the signs of being great artists, and had the venue been more befitting the gig would be more engaging. Johnny Flynn and the Sussex Wit support Laura Marling and will be back at the Glee Club in March, hopefully with a little more confidence in the venue.

*This was originally posted on my old blog*

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