Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Johnny Flynn and the Sussex Wit, The Old Blue Last, London, 21.05.2007

'I sometimes find it hard to be a man,' sings Johnny Flynn, and he looks like he means it. He's top of the bill at the Old Blue Last, a venue better known for its hosting of Shoreditch’s dazzling guitar-band legacy than for the kind of sensitive (if hard-edged) folk that Johnny Flynn and the Sussex Wit purvey. The first half of his set is almost drowned out by the braying of pissed Hoxton kids. But to his credit, Johnny manages to more or less silence the idiots by the end of his set, thanks to the tightness of his chamber band and his own multi-instrumental musicality. The closing song — Tickle Me Pink, which is available on Young&Lost Records — is the clincher: 'Pray for the people inside your head, for they won’t be there when you’re dead.' It's difficult for the audience to focus on looking cool in a trilby when that kind of sentiment is in the air.
Cash-like in his intensity, Johnny Flynn doesn’t belong here. Like so many before him, he falls into the black hole between folk and pop. Too delicate to mesmerise a pub crowd, but too rocking for the beardy-weirdy circuit, he needs a concentrated, dedicated audience. Occasionally, when a lyric is so strong that even this modest youngster knows it ('All the dogs are lying down, all the dogs are lying…'), he shows a self-belief that the Shoreditch Twats can't fail to notice. But too often the coherence of his songwriting is let down by his lack of stage presence.
There's serious promise here, nevertheless. With the right audience, Johnny could be good.

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