Tonight’s showcase of 22-year-old wordsmith Eugene McGuinness’s debut mini album The Early Learnings Of felt like a jam session. Various people seemed to be welcome to take to The Social’s tiny stage to accompany the headliner – lending a spontaneous air to his short set.
Before that, Test Icicles splinter Lightspeed Champion had opened the evening (and left before we arrived), with Emmy The Great going down well afterwards. Just as happy with wordplay as McGuinness, she was a complementary support.
Boy-girl love-in Slow Club were next up, the boy Charles charged with guitar playing and, initially, the girl Rebecca left with singing backing vocals and looking pretty. But it soon became apparent that the dynamic would shift as Rebecca’s hands sprouted drumsticks and began to thump out a rhythm that reminded of The Divine Comedy‘s Something For The Weekend or Jacques Brel‘s Mathilde. From that get-up-and-dance moment, Slow Club owned the room. They did enough and more to make checking out their debut single for Moshi Moshi an imperative.
Eugene McGuinness’s album, for new Domino imprint Double Six, is a quiet, thoughtful affair of quirky word pairings and quirkily imaginative instrumental arrangements. In a live setting, backed with an electric guitarist and drummer, it becomes an urgent beast as McGuinness, a tall, well-built and confident lad, grabbed the audience and led them along in whichever direction he fancied. Tickling away at an acoustic guitar, he scarcely paused for breath between songs. This was a man in a hurry, on a mission to convince that his was a talent that would be remembered, but only if he could put it all on display right then and there.
He needn’t be so concerned. His strong, note-perfect voice and choice of notes – on Bold Street and the ludicrously titled A Girl Whom My Eyes Shine For But My Shoes Run From particularly – suggests he knows what makes Coldplay songs stick in the mind, while his changing guitar pace and stop-start phrasings leave those with a preference for all things angular feeling satisfied too. Each song, Monsters Under The Bed especially, packs in so many words that it’s a surefire thing he has plenty more where they came from. One step away from stream of consciousness, McGuinness is arty, but he roots that art to an ear for what sells too and combines it all into a compelling urgency.
The size of the venue and, perhaps, the nature of his set left no room for Madeleine’s piano or any of the record’s appealingly elysian numbers. On three tracks Emmy or an unidentified friend of McGuinness’s – or both – appeared for duetting or backing vocals, leaving their audience seats to applause and returning to them to pats on the back from hovering punters. And with the toilets behind the stage, there was no gap at all between artist and audience.
After a short gap to follow his short set he returned for a short encore. A faithful though nonetheless appealing cover of The Smiths‘ What Difference Does It Make lacked Morrissey‘s baritone, but this proved no handicap – McGuinness can sustain long notes and make it look effortless. The audience loved every minute of it. That he left them wanting more was no bad sign either.