It’s an odd thing, the gentrification of music that’s gone on over thelast decade or so. It’s not necessarily all bad; we all like a nice sit downat the Barbican and the Royal Festival Hall now and again.
But it does onoccasion throw up rather surreal evenings like this one, when acousticfolksters with battered guitars and embroidered waistcoats, who shouldn’treally be seen outside of fields in Cherry Hinton or Somerset, are paradedbefore the polite denizens of fashionable Islington in churches,backed by stained glass windows and faced by audiences sitting neatly inpews.
The darker, more Gothic, Smog end of alt.country usually rises tothis challenge admirably; Kid Harpoon on the other hand looks halfwaybetween bedazzled and bewildered by it, starting off with an air more akinto a wired rabbit caught in the headlights than an indie kid ready to wowthe fashionistas. His traditional folksieness, complete withastrological-themed lyrics and darker matters hidden behind the sunny tunes,soon adapts however, and the perfect acoustics give his impressive vocalrange room to shine.
He’s very throaty for such a delicate-looking youngchap and even he acknowledges that the evening is the musical equivalent ofa 4X4 shopping trip to Waitrose – thanking the audience for the quietnessthat allows his more fragile songs to shine. Like the audience and thevenue, he looks a bit too clean to have ever slept barefoot in a teepee butby the end of the set he’s easily proved his worth.
Main act Fionn Regan is more Earthy, at least looking as if he might oncehave seen the outdoors and a few fields, although personally, I’m stillfeeling rather uncomfortable amid an audience who you can’t help but feelwill go home tonight with tales of how they saw a real Irishman with aguitar, as they laugh nervously to their equally polite neighbours. It’s notcoincidence that Fionn himself seems incapable of keeping a straight facethroughout much of the performance; the ridiculousness of it is inescapable.
He starts off acoustic and unaccompanied – just him, his harmonica andguitar, in front of the congregation. He seems shambolically homemade,incongruous in this venue with his ill-fitting waistcoat and gaffer-tapedguitar but this is – as the audience well knows – all part of the charm.He’s bringing a little slice of outdoor summer hippy dreams to a cold cornerof December’s inner London and they love him for it, particularly when hegives his little anti-technology rant (so much so that most of them recordit, blackberries and mobiles aloft).
He’s soon joined by an entourage including girl singers, a double bassistand drummer. Between them they produce dreamy, laidback folk that could lullus all to sleep and the only (small) complaint is that perhaps it’s all abit samey – you almost start to wish for some insane Shamanic drumming toremind you that you’re awake. Not at the expense of the plinky littlehandbells, though, which are completely lovely and a touch that would bevirtually impossible in any other venue. This naf-like quality is what theaudience has come here for and he is doing it very well. Songs like Be GoodOr Be Gone and Snowy Atlas Mountains stand out from the crowd and you canbet that the inevitable comparisons with Bob Dylan won’t be long incoming.
Sadly, the massed hordes do let their hero down when it comes to theaudience sing-along to the sublime The End of History, proving to be far tooquiet and polite to be able to get the hang of the campfire chorus. Heperseveres heroically, refusing to give in until he’s got some kind ofharmony out of us, and does it all very good naturedly – though I’d like tosee him try it on the main stage at Reading. His efforts prevail and we dosucceed, just, leaving him promising to meet us all afterwards in the bar,if he’s allowed out.
Bless ‘im. It’s been a good show. So good, in fact, that I buy the albumon the way out. He’s a rare gem, perhaps somewhat out of place in thesesurroundings but rising to the challenge and promising great things for awarm field somewhere on the festival circuit when summer begins again.