James Frost, Mari Joyce Band, at The Bicycle Shop Music Nights, Norwich, 18th June 2013
I am just home from another gem of a gig, a really special night at a packed and sweaty, sold out Bicycle Shop. I am so glad I was there!
On a muggy but not especially sunny evening, the Bicycle Shop Handlebar was already quite full and hot when I arrived about 30mins before Mari Joyce took to the stage. James Frost was kind enough to say hello beforehand, and although I knew of him I had never seen him perform live before, and as I am becoming more and more a fan of Mari Joyce I was filled with anticipation for the evening’s music.
I had a brief chat with Ian Hudson, who once again did a terrific job with the sound and arranging the gig, and at about 8:15pm the place was absolutely full for when Mari took to the stage with her full band. She has such a charming and likable personality, said her hellos and started the set. Unfortunately, due to extreme tiredness (and dire financial straits!) I was disappointed not to be able to see the recent gig at Olives, but having seen her perform solo, and more often with her band numerous times of late, I can categorically state that this is the best I have heard them. With a flower in her hair and a summer dress tonight, I think Mari has a beautiful and expressive voice, she is growing in confidence and coupled with the excellent sound to back up the band, the overall feeling was of a warm sound, and songs to take us on journeys, through dreams, experiences and emotions. She is an eloquent songwiter and guitarist, with further strings from the two Alexs on cello and violin, with Iestyn on percussion this is by far the best I have heard them. After a string of recent gigs they have become tight, are developing, and the songs, even the new ones and “works in progress” sounded excellent, especially in this perfect venue. I recently had the pleasure of photographing the band during their BBC Introducing session, and think they will transfer exquisitely to record. Mari is rapidly becoming one of my favourite local artists, with much potential. Delicate, subtle, and very beautiful.
The set lasted about forty-five minutes, but I think everyone present would have happily listened to more, there was rapturous applause after each track and especially at the end of the set.
So, tonight’s headline act, James Frost started his set some 15 minutes later, backed by pianist, and for a number later in the set, guitarist Rachel, with vocalist and tabla player Donna. Within moments of the first lines of the first track it was obvious I was listening to a special talent. The only thought grounding me to the moment was how on earth I had never heard James Frost play before! He plays delicate guitar, is brilliantly supported on piano, tabla and backing vocals, and he himself has a beautiful and extremely expressive voice. The songs frequently put me in mind of Nick Drake (and indeed the set finished with a cover of ‘Pink Moon’) but the set was far from depressing, quite surprisingly uplifting in fact. He is one of those artists that can take you places, make you see things with his delivery, and I frequently caught myself listening with eyes closed. Some haunting and memorable songs, such as the achingly beautiful melancholic ‘The Sound of Hearts Breaking’, the evocative ‘White Owl’ to the singalong (really) and very catchy ‘Love Will Never Leave Your Heart’ and some stunning backing vocals. A brilliant set which passed all too quickly. I was struck by how fully formed the sound was, and spoke briefly to James later in the evening, I was massively surprised to hear that this was their first gig as a trio. They must have put their all into the rehearsals is all I can say. James did mention to me that he thinks a double bass will complete their sound, and I would have to agree on this, that and/or a cello would be perfect. They are apparently recording an EP at present, and I am already looking forward to hearing it and the hoped-for promotional gigs when it is ready.
Many thanks to Ian Hudson, Mari Joyce band, James Frost band, and The Bicycle Shop
Words and photos by richard shashamane 2013