Bush Hall has to be one of the most attractive music venues in London. A wonderful Victorian edifice, all stucco and cherubs and chandeliers dripping from the ceiling, it provides what has to be one of the only real reasons for venturing beyond Shepherd’s Bush Green – other than to find an emergency fried chicken fix or a rocket-fuel shot of Turkish coffee. A scattering of candlelit tables in front of the stage just added to the civilised atmosphere.
This was the second night of the Sweetwater Festival, a benefit concert for the Tsunami-ravaged Thai village of Koh Jam. The evening kicked off with a pleasant set by Vashti, a singer-songwriter of the Kathryn Williams ilk. The lone woman on the bill she appeared initially – and understandably – a little nervous, but her confidence quickly grew. And her material, though lacking the lyrical intricacy of Williams’ at her bittersweet best, was lifted to another level by her breathy but arresting vocal performance.
She was followed on stage by Andy Thompson’s charming quartet Idiot Son. Though a little hampered by fuzzy acoustics, they played a cracking selection of tracks from their delicious little album Lummox the highlight of which being the superb Gone For Good.
Then came an ‘uncredited cameo’ from Spencer Pearce with his amusing George Bush Blues. The man knows how to work a crowd and he has an undeniably strong voice but you were left wanting more from him; it will be interesting to see what he’s capable of when he takes a moment to remove his tongue from his cheek.
Next up was El Hula, a vibrant bunch fronted by New Zealander Blair Hollands. Performing with attention grabbing energy, they rattled through a selection of upbeat and endearing tracks, their sound striking enough to silence even the ubiquitous chatters at the back. Despite this, my companion admitted to being somewhat distracted throughout their performance by the presence on stage of that rarest of things, an attractive drummer.
Headline act Cousteau were, I must admit, something of an unknown quantity to me before now. But I’ve been hearing good murmurs about them for some time now and they did not disappoint. Fronted by the rather intense, tattooed Liam McKahey, they have a downbeat gravely vibe rather reminiscent of Tindersticks. Fresh off a plane from Italy, they nonetheless performed a tight, captivating set; Bush Hall being a space well suited to their subtle, atmospheric songs.
An 11pm curfew meant that their set was a short one but it was enough to showcase their gently entrancing material for the uninitiated. While El Hula – for reasons besides the eye candy factor – may have made the strongest impression, Cousteau provided a highly satisfying finish to a night full of strong, distinctive voices coming together for a good cause.