By Elinor O’Neill
It is the first night of the year for Ted Harris as having finished his hundred-and-fifty-first essay he is ready to party and the crowd are ready to join him. Though do note this is a Cloud Sounds night so if you do want to party you had better do it quietly when called for and you had better not make him cross, a cross cloud is never pretty.
Ted has put a lot of work into finding the perfect acts to get us grooving and challenge our vocally vegetated ears after months of Christmas songs, which were admittedly wonderful and heart stoppingly bad chart tosh. As well as Sam and The Plants, who are a quirky little act who summon an instrument from near every group in the orchestra during their set, there is also S.R Gents who are sexy as hell and the headline act a huge collective called something too long for me to have to repeat any more than once in this review.
Sam And The Plants are an interesting pair who unfortunately give off an air of awkwardness, which leaves me at least feeling uncomfortable as I try to keep my head down and avoid eye contact for fear of causing them offence. Although what they are doing is musically very interesting, they make use of a flute, an old style accordion, something which looks like a giant mouse trap and a guitar. Over the course of their performance the problem is they fail to lock on to their key instrument which is the girls dazzling voice. Though perhaps creating such a sound in a studio where one can carefully work at one’s craft, finely layering the lyrical notes on top of one another, in front of a hungry crowd you have to give them more than pretty tools, you have to give them a show and this was where they fell short. As well as swearing a couple of times the lead male seemed to be a little too determined to emphasise the accent in his voice. Though this is at times a charming device, in this scenario it came across as too self involved and did not compliment the simplicity and beauty of his companion.
The crowd are generally a good lot, although a lot look better suited to life in the Democratic Republic of Chorlton than the cold streets of Withington. I am tempted to offer to escort the ones who happily sit on the floor home for fear they will get mugged. Hippy vibes are all well and good but you can’t give many out without your wallet and greencycled I-phone.
S.R. Gents are next in the line up and I can not deny it, none of them are particularly my type, but they radiate such pure sex-appeal that I have to hold on to my chair to prevent myself from an undignified stage invasion. They have been together for quite a while now and seeing them today I can’t believe I haven’t yet heard them from the speakers of my car-radio, the only time I listen to the waves. In the three years since I first saw them play at The Koffee Pot in the Northern Quarter; which is free of booze but full of free-range kids and extremely harsh critics in the form of hard-core music lovers with no tolerance for drivel, they have developed brilliantly as a band and there is a real connection between them which is great to watch.
Tonight they put on a show which makes me check their Myspace the minute I get home to see when I might get to watch them headline. Their songs are fantastic lyrically, one song is about all the people buried in one quarter of Paris, but with the lead singer’s gravelly voice, he could be singing about cleaning a toilet and we’d all still be imagining making eyes at a beautiful stranger over the rim of one’s espresso cup, cigarette in hand, trembling from the caffeine, and the sultry sounds of a 1950s American made radio.
Whether for effect or because the vocalist’s English is not great, the drummer leads the main contact with the audience whilst the bassist, an accomplished musician smiles happily away as they play, whilst the lead singer carefully selects one member of the audience at a time to connect with, making it seem at times as though he is singing to one person and not the whole room. The sound is fantastic and perfectly suits the venue and everyone is hip swaying away and reaching for their partner’s hand whispering in their ear about their love for the music.
The final act is a treat sourced by Ted and saved till last to keep everyone crowding in, The Maladies of Bellafontaine. Admittedly their name is ridiculous, better suited for a Judy Bloom novel than a cool little collective of musicians who look free of maladies, other than a look which suggests they have stepped from a time machine from the year 1918. Admittedly it gives them an air of being a connected collective which is always encouraging when one is after a continuing chemistry. Unfortunately I have to leave early, so only get to listen to a few songs but I have reports from reliable sources, including one of Manchester Confidential’s top reviewers, Ms Colette Bernascoli that they were “Blooming awesome” and well worth taking a look at.