Having been overcome by the emerging talent round the corner at the Royal College of Music the other night I shouldn’t have been surprised by excellence of the Discovery 2 showcase. From Michelle Nadia’s first chord I knew we’d be in for a great evening. I know I’m not known for my negative comments but for a small basement-bar the sound was on another planet and Alex Kerr-Wilson was right to praise Matt Smith. (www.engineeringworks-london.co.uk) Discovery 2 aims to present either unreleased or younger signed acts every last Thursday and I took my dentist along for what was to prove to be a true journey of discovery, positively revelatory. Alex uses a career’s music contacts to find the emerging scene’s very best and July’s last- Thursday was as fine an introduction as I could have desired. Alex showed her experience in getting the order of the acts just right. With such talents on display it wasn’t a pecking order, more an à la carte menu, each course contrasting and complementing the other, and throughout maximising the tone-perfect sound.
Michelle Nadia was July’s artist in residence at Caffè Nero. Hailing from New Zealand, Michelle can be found plying her trade on the Portobello Road. The complete singer-songwriter, Michelle opened her set with the strong Firefly her first album’s title tract. I’d done my homework on all the acts and I’d enjoyed their studio work, but live, Michelle took her own work to another level. Dance from the same collection is equally distinctive and Michelle introduced us to an assertive underlying aggression at the core of her writing that I suspect bodes well for her future catalogue. The sound is quite unique but her use of voice and acoustic guitar is in the English troubadour tradition reminiscent of Harvey Andrews - I doubt that means much to many. By the end of her set, featuring a gloriously battered acoustic guitar, which she beat like the drums, I was thinking this is an impossibly strong opener, setting the bar very high. www.michellenadia.com
I have to say that the flamboyant and prodigiously talented Alex Hulme is capable of following anyone and again strong studio work was even better on stage. Much of what he played was from his current EP The Start. I suspect he’ll soon tire of hearing about the input he’s had from Sir Paul McCartney, but for someone barely 20, Alex has an impressive CV and like Lauren Housley followed Discovery 2 with an acclaimed appearance at Kendal Calling 2012. Entertaining and engaging both on stage and off, to meet Alex Hulme is to wish him well, and particularly appealing was his interest in the other acts and words of encouragement for them. The opening solo sets were particularly impressive and surprisingly assured given that the studio recordings both had backing bands. Alex’s technical dexterity was further highlighted by his successful use of samplers at his feet, and indeed the dramatic percussive use of his guitar, itself something of a jazz masterpiece.
Lauren Housley appeared with her backing band and promoting her own excellent EP One Step Closer. Lauren’s fabulous stage presence and indeed strong backing band ensured that the high standards were maintained throughout a third set. Billed as Northern Soul redefined and “Motown-dance stepping Dap Kings” Lauren’s strong voice evoked Jazz-age cabaret, and she brings real personal flair to what is a well-rooted set.
The evening demanded a strong closing set and Solko didn’t disappoint. Solko’s music is straight in the middle of what I personally most enjoy – intelligent well- referenced hard rock in the tradition
of The Velvet Underground and Joy Division. They could bring the saxes in more and if they could be bothered they’d listen to what Van Der Graaf Generator did with a lead sax regularly substituting the guitar in the 70s. All they really need to do is take lines through the excellent twin lead guitars (the best I’ve heard since Wishbone Ash) and get the saxes doing something similar.
But overall they were as fabulous as the other three. Solko’s status as a promising act for the future is secured by genuine musical vision and a rhythm section that as Bob Dylan said of Ian Wallace “keeps time like a straitjacket”. The last three tracks were particularly powerful with the bassist coming to the fore drawing me up to the stage to admire his and both percussionists’ work. The heavy jousting guitars provided excellent melodies through the complex wall of sound and (high-praise indeed) are reminiscent of Grandaddy. As charming and relaxed on stage as all the other acts surely they have a great future in front of them.
Michelle Nadia - reprise
Just as we were leaving Michelle came out to say cheerio and thanks for showing an interest, so the dentist and I swept her up for a late evening drink at Home House that I’ll be boasting about in her stellar years to come. It was a real treat listening to a CD in the car with the artist commentating alongside and a privileged insight into the mind and the workings of an emerging star – by the way Michelle didn’t seem to agree with my interpretation of the underlying anger in Dance ....
Check out this month’s acts, The Glendale Family, The Left Step Band, Jennifer Left, and Annie Lovell or just take pot luck and join me on 30 August 2012 at 8pm. www.discovery-talent.co.uk
Post script: I wonder if the quality of the sound helped me lavish such praise on the acts – I’d have to have been super-human not to have been influenced.