Johnny Flynn: The Prince of Folk turns over a new Leaf
Johnny Flynn’s 2008 album 'A Larum' would see him assigned as the poster boy of Nu Folk. Since then I have seen him twice both times on the main stage at Green Man Festival, in many ways an ideal place for him to play. Yet tonight he plays a small venue and to a smaller crowd in Bold Street’s popular venue Leaf Tea Shop.
Johnny Flynn and the Sussex Wit – Leaf, Liverpool – 12/04/14In support and playing later with The Sussex Wit is fellow Transgressive artist Cosmo Sheldrake. With influences as diverse as Edward Lear and Bobby McFerrin this boy is a veritable Jack of all Trades; vocalist, multi-instrumentalist and producer. His set cannot be defined easily. He tries his hand at everything from Mongolian chants to Louisiana Cajun stylings. With a loop station and keyboards he performs covers such as 'Iko Iko' in a folksy dubstep style: think James Blake meets William Blake. He performs his new single ‘The Moss,’ to a swarming appreciative audience. Finally the Shakespearean actor, poet and songwriter takes to the stage with his Sussex Wit. He hits the ground running with songs from all three albums. Starting with stalwarts such as ‘The Ghost of O’Donahue’ and 'Old Bread,' he gets the crowd singing along early on. It becomes apparent that close up his voice is astonishing. The full impact of the music and vocals fills the smallish space and the sound bounces off the venue’s mirror balls. His latest long player, ‘A Country Mile,’ gets a good outing from title track to new favourite, ‘Murmuration.’ From 'Been Listening' comes the divine ‘Lost and Found,’ Laura Marling’s voice is delicately substituted with that of his sister Lillie on ‘The Water.’ ‘Bottom of the Sea Blues,’ another old school folk song sees the crowd mesmerised into silence, while old favourite ‘Brown Trout Blues,' has them in call and response mode. ‘I could be somewhere else. I should be someone else,’ they repeat back wistfully. Now in his thirties and a father, the singer treats us to a lullaby for his son who just wants to jump and dance around to it. ‘Oh My Darling’ is very touching. Throughout the gig you feel you are in the presence of an incredibly talented band with more than one string to their bow. One minute you hear dirty blues with Flynn leading on trumpet. The banjo and electric guitar sometimes dominate the folk sound. More pared down versions include interwoven cello and violin. By the time he plays ‘The Box,’ a proper ceilidh is taking place. The main set ends with ‘Tickle me Pink. ‘Now the entire audience is singing, ‘pray for the people inside your head, for they won't be there when you're dead. Muffled out and pushed back down, pushed back through the leafy ground.' Opting for the more usual non-core, the band remains on stage for the remainder of the songs, a mixture of very old and very new. The maracas come out and the urban fans participate in a hillbilly hoedown. You never get the feeling that the reverential audience is unfamiliar or disappointed by the new stuff. Rather they have been waiting eagerly for this hopeful fresh material and the opportunity to see it live. Tonight has been a real joy with the usual striking song craft from the folk troubadour. I would certainly advocate seeing him in an intimate environment where this prodigious talent can be truly appreciated.