Review by Paul H Birch and photos by Rich Ward
A cosy Sunday gathering at the Academy got off to a good start and never meandered from that path all night long, with three acoustic acts taking to the stage with minimal fuss while delivering much entertainment.
First up, Third Angle Projection, a Birmingham duo of long-blond haired singer/acoustic guitarist and shaven-headed bass player, offer us their signature tune for early night existential musing, and we find there’s a fine voice and solid melodic bass at work. They follow it with a love song, and then ‘The Useless’ a rockier more epic number where they come across as Metallica doing a Led Zeppelin III with the pop sensibilities of Nirvana, whose ‘Slither’ they dip into for a cover version next. Two more tracks, of which the stand out is ‘For What You Are’ and they’re off to polite but sincere applause.
Steve Mercy and his six-string take to the stage next, and deliver sombre lyrical wordplay that contrasts well with an upbeat guitar sound. We’re offered a more serious singer/songwriter approach here, and when he introduces a lady by the name of “Marie” to accompany him on an assortment of guitars (and a bouzouki) we also get classical finesse and double-handed effectiveness musically. The first song they play together bridges pagan ritual and political misappropriation of green issues in a powerful manner that calls to mind Roy Harper a little. ‘Friends Like These’ goes folkier, ‘Summerland’ reminisces over lost loved ones, and ‘After the Fall’ a baroque raga rock take on a tune Mercy had written for a former Goth band. That they end the set with a bluesy waltzing folk rendition of ‘Black Sabbath’s Paranoid’, and it works, deserves the applause it received.
Toby Jepson bounces on stage with a smile and his own acoustic as The Charlie Daniels Band’s freak hit country rock single ‘The Devil Went Down to Georgia’ plays over the PA… What’s more we all wait and listen along with him until it’s finished; reminded how good it was. But tonight, Jepson’s better. He starts with a great stadium rock take on ‘Unwind’ from his Guitar, Bass & Drums solo album – that the track is like a new wave power pop tune on record shows how you can change a tune, and still make it work. He builds it up, giving an almost calypso feel to the hook line chorus and throws in the first of several Townsend-like guitar poses tonight on concluding the song.
By the next few numbers he has the crowd singing along with him, even if they’re not familiar with the newer tunes. Two rear spotlights project against the back of his head, unintentionally forming a halo as he strums chords with dextrous precision and moves about the microphone, wrapping his vocals with whoops, hollers, as much a crooning Sir Cliff as a Lemon-squeezing Plant. He wears the aura of a rock star well but without overt affectation; instead the impression left is of someone in love with communicating, or simply sharing, his songs.
The set is broken intermittently when, clipboard in hand, road manger Nigel Cruickshank asks questions listed by the audience. A bit Smash Hits in parts, at others serious, and presumably totally unrehearsed as Jepson goes off at tangents and unguardedly mentions an early divorce in his life and a secret love of prog: “Brain Salad Surgery in my Top 5, certainly”. Rather than diffuse the momentum it adds to the character of a quite special, intimate evening, especially for those up the front who I presume to have been big Little Angels fans in their day, some have even brought their kids along (the Academy allowing kids over eight in,) who hopefully will never watch The X-Factor again after seeing Jepson.
New release Raising My Own Hell gets a good airing. “It’s not an EP because it’s over 21 minutes long, so my manager said I might get some reviews that way,” he half-jests. Tonight the lead track is more folk-led than the recorded version with some nice natural reverb to his voice. He follows it with the last song on that record, ‘Shadow Boxing’ offering aural soul-inflections over its slow blues beat and a nice Steve Harley styled sneer now and again.
Apart from the question and answer breaks, he also banters freely between numbers, telling us that if goes on too long to make a cutting motion across our necks to tell him “To shut up and sing”. Rather ironically, after gassing off, he then delivers a brisk version of ‘Small Talk’ playing with the arrangement, like wise with ‘Rear View Mirror’ giving it a slight rockabilly feel, both of them from the previous solo album Guitars Bass & Drums. He then starts to play songs he says are special to him, notably ‘Out of Sight’ from his debut solo and Little Angels’ ‘Don’t Pray for Me’ that has those down the front nearly in rapture, then giving them what they want with ‘I Ain’t Gonna Cry, Baby’ has them singing along. They’re followed by ‘Forgiveness’ that’s strong on storytelling narrative, an up tempo ‘The Chosen One’ and the melancholic old world gypsy romance that is ‘Four Letter Word’ off the new record. Co-written with Kate Melua, it’s a great song, and when he declares that he messed up the chords no one really notices; they’re embracing the moment and then recapturing their own past singing along to a brace of Little Angels numbers, most notably ‘My Forbidden Fruit’ that comes on like a hobo’s train trip to damnation before rocking out acoustically at the end and later ‘Young Gods/Back Door Man’ seeing the show off in spirited form.
Tonight was a rewarding experience, witnessing a diverse bunch of troubadours on stage, and in the case of Toby Jepson a real trooper too as he bounced back for just one encore, ‘Too Much too Young’ albeit also proving you’re never too old to rock and roll!
See more of Rich’s photos here;