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The Review - MUSIC - grooves with RóISíN GADELRAB
Published: 26 November 2009
Richard Hawley and Alex Turner at the Chapel
?From the Little Noise Sessions:
Top: Richard Hawley and Alex Turner.
Centre: Mica
Bottom: I Blame Coco
All a Little bit special!

Union Chapel

“BOYS with guitars in cardigans sitting on chairs staring at the floor” – this wordy but humble description of Mencap Little Noise Sessions’ opening night by DJ Jo Whiley was apt but missed one vital piece of information.
The understated line-up of nervy young men playing acoustic versions of songs known and unknown outshone everything that followed.
Everything Everything, Bombay Bicycle Club, The Maccabees and Editors - not an explicitly stellar line-ups - but for those who thrive off seeing pure musically charged connections, this was the night.
Alexandra Burke, Mika, Richard Hawley and Florence and the Machine followed with more glamorous sets as the week unfolded but it was this first night that stood out.
Everything Everything turned their youth to their advantage as they opened the Sessions with sound that blended Passion Pit with Fleet Foxes harmonies, accompanied by violinists but still managing to sound current.
Bombay Bicycle Club took the folk route, with guitarist Jamie McColl’s dad Neil joining on banjo.
Geeky frontman Jack Steadman’s awkward, shaky vocals were captivating and their most recogniseable songs, Always Like This and Magnet, were infinitely improved with the folkier tones.
The Maccabees, also on chairs and in cardigans, with Orlando’s Week’s entrancing broken voice commanded a hush with another stripped down, gentle performance.
Taking things down a couple of octaves, Editors injected more energy to the night, with lively lead singer Tom Smith leaping about the altar. He was a little unsure of his own material, leading to several false starts, which were easily laughed-off and further endearing to the crowd.
This year’s event may have been plagued with cancellations and last-minute illness - but that didn’t stop it retaining its reputation as one of the most memorable highlights of the London gig calendar.
Paloma Faith lost her voice, Chipmunk needed some time out, and Hockey, Marina and the Diamonds, Taio Cruz and Tinchy Stryder all cancelled – but we were rewarded with surprise appearances from Arctic Monkey Alex Turner and reality-defying Spanish guitar instrumentalists Rodrigo y Gabriela who whipped the chapel into an arena-like frenzy with their dexterity.
When paying cold hard cash for tickets – even for charity – the line-up does matter, but the very nature of the Sessions, with acoustic arrangements, experiments and surprises, means it is always a thrilling experience.
It is the fourth year the Sessions have been held in Islington’s Union Chapel and it’s always been atmospheric but whoever did the lighting this year elevated it to another level.
VV Brown warmed up for Alexandra Burke, with a confident set but her voice, usually so strong was a little swamped by the chapel’s high ceilings. She was followed by Alphabeat whose endlessly optimistic songs are all about love and boyfriends. They brought the sunshine in and left everyone smiling. Then Alexandra Burke, used her first full-length gig since winning last year’s X-Factor – in her home borough – to show that she really did have the voice.
Playing mostly covers, she showed she didn’t need big producers and guest rappers to establish her credentials. Her cover of Beyonce’s Listen remained impressive and her sexy dance moves, backed up by two funky dancers, were a sight rarely if ever seen within the chapel.
On Wednesday young Daisy Dares You and Alex Gardner warmed up for Mika. At just 16, Daisy turned heads, while only slightly older, Alex’s soulful vocals were easy on the ear, though the Jack Johnson/Jason Mraz-style songs were easily forgettable.
And then it was Mika. The chapel’s high ceilings were enveloped in his incredible vocal range, as he worked through his last two albums accompanied by The Kings Singers.
To see him feel his way through the music, improvising, and thriving on the choir’s harmonies was a unique experience.
Over My Shoulder, written at the age of 15 displayed a maturity men twice his age would never have had and it was the standout track of the night.
He had the entire chapel on their feet more than once and adoring fans screamed his name.
On Thursday I Blame Coco, fronted by Sting’s daughter Coco Sumner opened. Coco’s a captivating lead singer, she’s a messy tomboy with a voice to match, and as much as she won’t like the comparison, still sounds like her dad. But it works and she seemed humbly grateful for the warm reception.
And then Jo Whiley frightened us all, introducing X-Factor’s terrible twins Jedward. So it was a welcome surprise when Alex Turner and friends walked onstage.
Alex unveiled two new tracks and opened with an Inkspots cover. It was a different side to the Arctic Monkey but left less of an impact than hoped.
Corinne Bailey Rae followed with some soothing jazz tones, followed by Richard Hawley, retro, dry and commanding. Alex Turner joined him for Arctic Monkeys track The Only Ones Who Know, while actor Neve Campbell looked on.
On Sunday night Ellie Goulding and Erik Hassle opened, before Golden Silvers took to the stage.
Pianist and lead singer Gwilym Gold had only had his wisdom tooth removed hours earlier but you’d never have been able to tell. They soldiered on regardless, with beautiful harmonies, retro sounds with shades of sixties vocal groups – a departure from their usual indie pop.
Then Rodrigo y Gabriela electrified the audience with a surprise set, of rock star magnitude. It was the most highly charged moment of the entire week and an apt warm-up for Florence and the Machine.
The first time I saw Florence she was still verging on the gypsy folky side but, as she began to attract the critics’ attention, she incorporated more dance beats and sparkly outfits, culminating in her euphoric appearance at Glastonbury this summer.
So it was a surprise to see her relinquish the drums, and just let her voice exploit every corner of the Union chapel, backed by strings and a harp. Dressed in a sombre black floor-length gown, she worked through her album, even mastering Drumming Song without the drums.
The bird cages and flowers were still there but Florence just let her soulful tones and powerful vocals take control, winning a standing ovation from the packed pews of people who had crammed into the chapel just for her.

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