A really great gig – Ms Soraia, Sweet Billy Pilgrim and the amazing Katzenjammer

So, as we said on Friday, when we talked about the need for speakers (at conferences and similar) to “perform”, Monday night saw me in the Borderline, the famous basement music venue off Charing Cross Road, for a gig in the HMV “next big thing” series. An ironic title perhaps, as the headliners, Sweet Billy Pilgrim, have been going for 10 years and were shortlisted for the Mercury music prize in 2009 – so not exactly shiny young rockstars.

But they seemed to be in re-launch mood. Although they’re not natural extrovert performers (which was very obvious given who they followed onto stage – see below), their forthcoming album, Crown & Treaty, to be released in April, and which formed the basis of their set, looks like it will be more accessible than anything they’ve done up to now. The new songs retain some of the complex touches of their previous music but with some very strong hooks and tunes. And the addition of a female backing vocalist adds some lightness and charm - this could be their Elbow-type long awaited breakthrough.

First on earlier in the evening was young Charlene Soraia, who had a surprise hit before Christmas with her cover of the Calling’s  “Wherever you may go”. She’s another Brit school kid, with a great voice that goes up into dog whistle territory. She seems to have had a rough time recently, given the number of references to ex-boyfriend and a filthy but very amusing song about the women who “stole” him from her! She got the audience on her side despite her lack of stage-craft; whether her material is strong enough for her to make it I’m not sure, but hey, that’s what I said when I saw Adele 5 years ago as a support act. This is probably Soraia’s strongest non-cover song (note the amazing high notes at 3:30).

The highlight of the evening though was the very wonderful Katzenjammer – simply one of the very best live acts I’ve ever seen. Four Norwegian woman, all demonstrating great musical and vocal talents, who rotate instruments (from accordion to trumpet, glockenspiel to mandolin) and vocals. Their music encompasses four part harmony  (think Fleet Foxes), Balkan folk (Gogol Bordello), pop, and blues (Marianne sings like Janis Joplin).  They’re engaging, funny, energetic and their 35 minutes went by in a flash. They’re back in London on March 22nd – which I can’t make unfortunately – but I would see them again without hesitation. Here are a couple of different sides to them – their pop/folk side, then a highly original blues cover of a song by... actually, I’ll let you work it out!

to them..


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