Delaying the start of his gig for an hour to allow the audience to finish watching Arsenal’s European Cup semi-final in peace just goes to show what a nice man M(artin) Craft is.
While those us who turned up early wait for him to appear, we’re kept entertained by seven-piece support act Barbarossa, who look and sound like a slightly more sedate Arcade Fire. Employing a box accordion and quirky strings, they keep the non-football fans amply entertained with a pleasant enough mix of twisted folk that by the time they’re done, the flyers for their upcoming activities they distribute amongst the crowd are gratefully received.
The interband playlist includes offerings from the Velvet Underground that panders well to its audience until the man himself appears, along with his own mix of rock and chamber musicians, around 9.30pm.
By now, the swanky jazz-club interior of Soho’s Too2Too much has filled up considerably for this media showcase, designed to highlight songs from his forthcoming album Silver and Fire, out in May.
What follows is not what you might expect from his background in Aussie psychedelics Sidewinder; whether it’s the jazz club ambience or the quiet acceptance that if he had made the assorted journos choose between him and Arsenal he may have lost out, there’s a subdued swagger about the performance that takes it away from just another alt.folk singer/songwriter into late night, red wine music territory. The combination of thrift-store philosophy, the decadent velvet brocade of the stage curtains and breathy vocals sets an atmosphere that’s both expectant and relaxed.
Craft opens with the Gordon Lightfoot cover The Way I Feel, which brings an appreciative response from the audience, before launching into the dreamy title track of the forthcoming album, Silver and Fire. The elegance of the stage and the leather backed banquets of the main audience area are an ideal setting. Put aside any preconceptions borne of his psychedelic background and sharing a label (679) with Mystery Jets, M Craft is further towards the jazz end of the alt.folk spectrum than prog, and he translates his classical music dropout past more into ’20s speakeasy than ’70s hippy, particularly on Emily Snow and Sweets – both also from the new album.
Through the dark lyrics of Snowbird, which circles ominously around cautionary tales of drug addiction, the soulful Love Knows How to Fight and the gentle acoustica of Dragonfly, he makes the most of a band and supporting vocalists that never crowd the stage nor overpower him, layering the music up or down depending on what each song demands. It’s never going to set the charts alight, but it knows the audience it’s aimed at delivers a good slice of what they’ll want.
If there’s any complaint (and it’s not a large one), it’s that all of this lasts well under an hour and comes to an abrupt end that feels artificially truncated. Seven tracks isn’t a lot, and it would have been nice to see what else he could have offered. Still, leaving the audience wanting more is never a bad thing.
As he leaves the stage, there’s a minor barney about whether or not the sound system should go on, with the sound engineer for (people will clear off if they’re sure there’s no encore) and the venue staff against (they need to get the room cleared as quickly as possible) before we’re ushered out past a long queue of slightly irate clubbers who’ve been kept waiting too long already, into an alleyway filled with bad transvestites. In some ways it seems like a perfectly orchestrated end to the shabby-chic feel of the evening, Oxfam glamour and seedy bohemia hand-in-hand. He might never get as perfect a venue again.