Blue-eyed boy: Johnny Flynn
Mechanical Bride start things off, gentle as the breeze but twice as purposeful. They are slow and mindful of silences and confident enough to use them to their bravest lengths. Ethereal in a way that recalls Joanna Newsome and with a vocal range evoking greats like Joni Mitchell, the three members, with mandolin, violin, glockenspiel and piano, haven’t kept up the understatements on their album – you can find a cover of Rhianna’s umbrella – but live the rest is eerie, old-fashioned and strong, and strengthened further by their quiet demeanor.
On to someone else who should have the courage of their convictions – Johnny Flynn, playing a solo set. Without his band he is noticeably nervous, with a few dud notes in the first song and a few forgotten words elsewhere. When he forgets he stops and the audience help him out, and he explains, embarrassed, that ‘something has happened to my brain’. But he needn’t worry: there is a lot lot right with it. Nerves or otherwise, alone Flynn replicates the intuition he brought to his previous work: knowing when to elongate notes into emotion and when to snap them into a rhythmic finish, when to exploit his bluesy guitar ability and when to move into a folky stomp.
The audience reaction owes more to his musical ability than his knowledge of how to work the crowd, and so it should be – there is something unendingly endearing about the simplicity of his music and manner. His voice is pleasing and perplexing, sounding deep when it’s singing high notes and boyish when it’s manly. And lyrics like ‘I read that independence was a lightness in your step/you walked away/ I felt so heavy at the start of every day, every day’ only reinforce the nervous charm bouncing off the stage where the boy in his plaid shirt strums his guitar.