I’ve given up comfort food. I’m trying to shift lockdown pounds that have left me with the physique of the kind of ageing second-string wrestler you used to see on World of Sport early on a Saturday afternoon in the 1980s. It’s all eschewing oils and measuring portions round these parts, and so I have been seeking my comforts in music. Enough with your Lithuanian drone and your polyrhythmic technical metal from Indonesia! Bring me verses and choruses and melodies and vocal harmonies!
Katy J. Pearson — a young woman from the West Country who perhaps wishes she were, instead, from the American west coast — was true comfort food. The whole thing also felt unnervingly like a real gig, the kind one used to go to Before All This. The streets of Camden Town were thronged — truly, we are on our way back to civilisation when one can once again see credulous teens buying knock-off Supreme hoodies — and the crowd inside the Jazz Café were wildly enthusiastic, albeit at their tables, rather than in a standing throng. It felt almost sinfully wonderful.
Pearson has a nice voice — flowery and light — rather than a fantastic voice, and she was not necessarily helped by sound that was a little boomy where we were sitting. But she writes songs that suit it admirably. There are four-to-the-floor rhythms, so everything sounds pointed and direct, and chord sequences that, rather than dazzling the listener with their unfamiliarity, make perfect sense, and there’s a folky twist to their Fleetwood Macishness. The best of her songs — ‘Tonight’, for example, which she closed with — clearly resonated with the twentysomethings in the audience, and caught the mood of youthful courtship so directly it almost made one feel young: ‘We’re so so vulnerable/ In the eyes of our beholder/ And I feel it’s getting stronger.’ An awful lot of people seemed to be singing along to one particular chorus: ‘I’m waiting for something real.’ Bless ’em all. I know how they felt.
She had an album out last year on Heavenly Records, called Return, and it’s recommended if you just want something that feels nice to listen to: a hot chocolate of a record, and testimony to the fact that Jeff Barrett, the noted sybarite who runs that label, has not had his ears blunted by the decades of indulgence detailed in last year’s terrific book about Heavenly, Believe in Magic.
What else might offer comfort? Garage rock? Oh yes. The dramatic sound of rock’n’roll from the immediate pre-Beatles era, when swooning ballads held sway? Why, certainly. The two of them combined? You couldn’t keep me away. That’s what Hemi Hemingway offers on his excellent first EP, The Lonely Hunter, on which fuzzed guitars bump up against reverbed drums, and he delves beyond the reaches of fashionability to cover Doris Day’s ‘Move Over Darling’. So my starting point for this is that Hemi Hemingway is an unqualified good thing.
That said, he and his band — four women, two men, all in white, whom he introduced as the Snowflakes — are hardly seasoned veterans of the road (I think this might have been their first show; I also suspect I was the only person in the audience who was neither related to nor cohabiting with anyone in the band), and it rather showed. They sometimes stumbled where they should have danced, and Hemingway’s hips merely swayed when they should have swivelled. He kept his voice reined in, where one wanted it to soar. Truth be told, it was a little unwise of him to encore with a version of Chris Isaak’s ‘Wicked Game’, a great song which, composed in precisely the same vein, invited comparison with what came before. But, yes, Hemi Hemingway is a good thing. I suggest you just get the EP for now, and maybe go to see him a few months down the line, when the show is a little more surefooted.
At the tail end of last week, my phone pinged. Someone at one of those shows must have had the virus. Now I’m in self-isolation, so it’s back to Lituanian drone and polyrhythmic technical metal from Indonesia on the streaming services. Damn you, fun.
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