Review: Ryan Thomas EP Launch – Jamcafe – 4 April 2014

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As things begin to kick off in Jamcafe, it’s clear that there is a buzz for tonight. Arriving at quarter past eight, I of course was far too early, but had the pleasure of enjoying RYAN THOMAS playing right at the beginning with his band. Although it was mainly an elongated sound check, it was like a mini-set, and provided a window to the future, teasing us with snippet of the things to come. After setting the mood, TOM MCCARTNEY takes to the stage. The crowd is growing, the anticipation is building and people are buzzing for the evening to begin.

TOM MCCARTNEY is a striking performer. His vocal talents, stage presence and charisma are endearing, and his youthful innocence is a stark contrast to the timeless nature of his songs. He has impressive vocals for his age, which he flaunts with lovely melodies delivered in a serious, intense, but also understated manner. There are a few mistakes here and there but he takes it on the chin, and it barely disrupts the songs or the audience, which is impressive. Although McCartney is a blues artist, the instrumental sections of his music can speak more of rock and roll at times.
‘I’m Feeling Blue’ is one of my favourites of the set, with both low and high chords on his acoustic guitar in oscillation, it sets the mood. Intensity builds as he sings “I have no-one to lay my troubles on, so I sing a song”, which sums up his set entirely. The simple, sweet, melancholic blues which Tom McCartney plays is painted with colours of pain and experience beyond his years. I can’t wait to see where this artist goes – if he’s this good now, where will he be in even a years time?

After TOM MCCARTNEY’s moody set opening the evening, ANWYN WILLIAMS takes to the stage, instantly claiming it as her own as she kicks things off with ‘Drinking In Bars’. Her bright vocal tones and country-style of singing livens up the audience, and the tone of the evening. Her set navigates through a variety of different numbers, some which are uplifting and others which are much darker, but they are all endearing. Anwyn even busts out a new song, which she admits on stage that she “shouldn’t be risking it three songs in”… However it is polished and impressive for a recently written song, and she stuns the audience with her professionalism. The audience remains enraptured during ‘Walking Now’, and as they whoop and cheer for her. The final song of her set, ‘Going Gone Away’, is one of her strongest numbers. It’s lively, upbeat and prepares the audience for the next band in style. The crowd has expanded and it’s very busy now, as people try to get their drinks in, or their cigarettes smoked before the next act.

HEAVYHEADS open with a lighthearted number, which is upbeat but no less heartfelt with impressive and lovely vocal deliveries. The band consists of a cajon, guitar and lead singer, which is a simple and laid back ensemble, with both guitarist and cajon player sitting down on stage it promotes a relaxed atmosphere (or at least as relaxed as Jamcafe can be on a Friday night!). The set moves on to livelier numbers, which are fun and enthusiastically performed.
It’s great to see bands being a little unconventional, and HEAVYHEADS are just that as the guitarist turns his instrument over and plays it on his lap, which is exciting to see, and musically is changes the scope of the song, becoming more percussive. The stage presence of this band is a confident one, with the frontman singing the repeated vocals; “I’ll carefully watch you fall” as he dons a beer in one hand. I can’t help but feel that I hope I don’t watch him fall, beer would be everywhere! The next track is a really fantastic mash-up of Michael Jackson’s ‘Beat It’ and Nelly’s ‘Ride With Me’. It works really, really well and the arrangement is superb, using interesting techniques, and some nice lyrical mash-ups as well as musical ones. The crowd loves it, and cheers enthusiastically for the band as the song comes to a close. After a sweet ukulele song written about the Sleep Easy event which recently took place to raise awareness for homelessness, the set draws to a close, as the lead singer passionately sings to the audience “please comfort me”, it’s a heartfelt, delicate and wonderful song to finish on. The audience certainly did comfort them in the form of enthusiastic applause, cheering for their performance.

Finally RYAN THOMAS takes to the stage, he looks dapper in his suit, and set to impress. With his full band in tow, they add depth and layers to the music, which is vocally strong and is a pleasure to listen to, as witnessed by the full capacity crowd and cheering audience members. He’s passionate, but his band members are just as dedicated, with arrangements that allow for guitar solos and vocal melodies to come through. Ryan’s vocal style is grizzly and the same throughout the set, which charms and entertains with many different styles in the songs, they’re all blues infused, but there are other genres in there; rock, pop, soul… The full band allows for these glistening snippets of their influences to come through, especially on bass and electric guitar which are played with flair and precision. RYAN THOMAS also engaged the audience in some lighthearted banter between the songs, culminating in the whole bar singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to a friend of his. It’s sweet and fun, although I just want to hear more music! Next up is a real treat with the wonderful ANWYN WILLIAMS joining the band for a while, and she provides wonderful harmonies to Ryan’s vocals. Their voices sound lovely together, although hers was quieter and harder to hear at times. Ryan sings solo mainly, but is joined on choruses by Anwyn, which works well, but I would have quite liked to hear Anwyn sing a verse solo too. It’s relaxed and chilled, and they are both comfortable on stage together. ‘Ain’t Gonna Cry’ with Anwyn was a particularly gorgeous rendition, as it was stripped back from the band which changed the pace, and allowed for the sadness of the song to shine through. The audience is enraptured with the performance, and many are standing and watching contemplatively, feeling the song alongside them. ‘Worries and Troubles’ followed, and it’s passionate and well controlled with a feeling of reminiscence and nostalgia in the crowd. The final song with Anwyn is slower and more contemplative, with really gorgeous melodies. It’s lovely and receives a positive reaction from the crowd, which only balloons in appreciation for Anwyn as she leaves the stage. With the stage to himself again, Ryan announces the final track of the evening; ‘Ain’t No Blues At Sea’ which is a fantastic crowd pleaser, with the audience dancing the night away. The drums are particularly good for this one, and the electric guitar adopts a more expansive approach, which ties in nicely with the lyrics and the atmosphere gives way for an ‘out at sea’ feeling. As the song finishes the crowd are getting rowdy, with encores being demanded from every direction, its clear that they are keen to hear more. Of course Ryan obliged, bringing out a bit of the funk for the final set to end the evening. The bass and guitar are really fun in this one, creating funk/blues fusions. The crowd go wild for it, and it ends the set on a really high note. It’s a fantastic launch with awesome performances from all the acts, and some really special moments that will be hard to forget.

You can buy Ryan Thomas’s EP on iTunes from 7th April.

Review by Cassia Helme

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