There is no greater example of an atmospheric broom cupboard than the miniscule 12 Bar, just off London’s “Tin Pan Alley” and in the heart of musician territory. It’s a place that breathes music – and if you’re upstairs on the mezzanine level you get to see the heads of those playing it.
For those of us downstairs, we got to observe a selection of legs and feet, topped with guitars, placed on a plinth (stages are surely bigger) in a corner of the room.
Impressive support of just four songs came from Rumer and The Denials, a folksy foursome headed by a lady with lyrics, guitar and a delightful voice, even with laryngitis. Around her, trying their best not to knock each other off the plinth, were her band – a fellow guitar twanger, a violinist and a seasoned harmonica player in a grey suit whose wrinkles surely contained dust. A pleasingly uncomplicated approach to songwriting characterised the material on show and they left the audience in a relaxed and happy mood.
The decibel level cranked up for our headliners Ray. A band with a name never designed to be googled, Ray have threatened to debut for so long that it feels like they’re old-timers. Later this year their debut album, Deep Blue Happy, is finally released, more than a year since it was recorded. Tonight was a chance to showcase the material – and this they did.
Three melancholic chaps and one melancholic lady (on bass) somehow managed to find space on the plinth, not just for themselves, but for a drum kit. So far, so impressive.
Singer Nev Bradford struck an artistic pose in keeping with the venue’s atmospherics. Only his pumps weren’t serious-music black, his lengthy hair was messily disregarded and his guitar seemed to be held together with unfetching grey gaffer tape.
With opener Music Dies the audience was served notice that Nev’s voice would be rich and deep. He never completely used it to its full potential during the set though, curtailing his notes whenever soaring seemed a possibility. Soaring was instead left to brother Mark’s electric guitar’s slide delivery. With reverbed vocals and cymbals filling in the sonic gaps, the slide guitar was king of every song, an array of pedals backing up the suggestion that Mark knows a thing or two about playing strings.
Valley of Sin and Killing Time were both recognisable from the album – indeed much of the set was striking for its similarity to the recorded versions. Ray’s problem is that, with one or two exceptions, without the slide guitar they’d sound inoffensively ordinary. Mid-way through the set we were treated to a mildly upbeat number which I took to be from the debut EP – I didn’t recognise it from the album – which woke the audience up. And the set closer Adored Once finally saw Nev let loose his voice under Mark’s screaming guitar. But frustratingly, much of the rest of the set consisted of a similar tempo, similar vocal delivery, similar guitar sounds.
One shouldn’t be too hard – for this is a band with potential who are only just about to debut. But some variation wouldn’t go amiss.