Brass Monkey, Johnny Steinberg at Norwich Arts Centre, 23 December 2014. Photos by Richard Shashamane
Earlier in the year I had the pleasure of hearing for the first time, and meeting Johnny Steinberg at FolkSpot Radio, who along with Natalie Lake and a couple of others had won support slots for Dave Swarbrick. I was rather taken with his songs and we had a lovely chat that evening about the film Man On Wire which was the inspiration for his EP. I’ve heard him play once or twice since then and was happy to accept his invitation to come along and take some photos for his support slot to Brass Monkey at the Arts Centre.
He’s a very likeable and unassuming guy with a great way of storytelling and introducing his songs, plenty of dry wit between songs and a whole lot of depth within them covering a range of subjects. It takes some courage to take to the stage alone with just a guitar (and a loop for one song) and occasional harp as the venue is just starting to fill for Brass Monkey but his sound absolutely filled the auditorium, sounding rich, clear and punchy the guitar work perfect for his songs. For me it is all about the stories and the telling but when he sings … his voice is full, strong and clear and he knows how to project and he can play too.
Johnny has a very easy manner, drawing the listener into his world. On first meeting when he told me he was from Wymondham I mentioned I had not heard a local accent like that for a while and he explained he was from North Wymondham. He’s a Yorkshire gentleman through and through, friendly and interesting to talk to with a wealth of modestly told stories, which deserve to be heard. I admire what he is doing, his motives and his artist’s perspective. A lovely and highly enjoyable set, just a shame there were not a few more to enjoy it but those present certainly appreciated it. Johnny closed with an epic and very impressive Rocking in the Free World, the only cover in the set.
Amazingly, he recently had pleurisy and had only just recently recovered enough to perform this set, his voice holding out well, making it all the more impressive.
I’d never come across Brass Monkey before. Led by vocal tutor Sally Taylor they have something of a blues, soul, and funk The Commitments about them with a hint of ska too. Normally a ten-piece they were minus their fiddle player this evening they played loud and lively good time music, largely their own but with a handful of covers thrown in too.
They have a brass section, keys, drums, guitar, bass and a couple of backing singers, who I’d actually have personally liked to hear a little higher in the mix and also see a bit nearer the front of the stage, although they were animated and wore smiles as radiant as I’ve ever seen so that they easily projected in that sense. They all play with an infectious joy and enthusiasm. There’s a lot of instruments in the band which all sound great but ideally I’d have liked to have heard (and seen) more of the vocals and vocalists who became somewhat drowned out by the keys, more so as the set went on.
It was undeniably good fun though and the audience seemed to lap it all up, and Sally, abandoning her gold stilettos to finish the set barefoot, along with the rest of the band played and sang with an impressive confidence and self-assurance throughout.
A delight of a gig that I’d probably not have known about were it not for Johnny, so my thanks to him for introducing me to Brass Monkey and also the chance to hear some more of his own songs in the lovely Arts Centre with a fantastic sound, a big well done to the sound engineers, it sounded superb.
words and photos, richard shashamane 2014