On this icy February evening something quite special is taking place inside The Musician pub, in the heart of the otherwise-deserted Cultural Quarter. Two of Leicester’s rising stars, the piano-pop Kenworthy & folky Humble He frontman Joe Morrell, are about to begin playing to a packed venue.
Up first is Joe, playing his own set of melancholy acoustic songs. He opens with a five-song set, cutting a lonely figure on the stage, seeming unsure and apologetic as he asks the audience to bear with him while he retunes his guitar. Without the support of his band around him he seems to have lost some of his usual frontman bravado although, to his credit, the fact that he is soldiering on as a solo artist when Humble He are on hiatus is commendable. His songs feature unusual chord progressions; he displays the impressive skill of maintaining complex strumming and picking patterns while singing equally complex melodies. With his husky voice – reminiscent of Damien Rice – and memorable melodies which float over moody minor chord progressions a la City and Colour he certainly isn’t ‘just another acoustic act’, although his set would benefit from a couple of upbeat tunes.
The four ballads in his set verge dangerously close to becoming one but he picks up the pace with his final song, an innovative cover of Hit The Road Jack, a fine choice that sheds light on his musical capabilities. Here is a man with oceans of potential – he just needs to embrace his newfound status as a solo artist.
Piano-based rock has become something seldom seen lately, fading alongside Keane’s popularity, but Kenworthy seem to be on a mission to bring it back. Frontman Jack Kenworthy is perched in front of a keyboard at the side of the stage, controlling the crowd’s attention with his between-song banter. He tinkles the ivories like a demon, casually throwing in jazz stabs, seventh-notes and twinkling arpeggios, which compliment his strong, soulful vocals. They’ve mastered the art of creating a catchy chorus, making music that is truly memorable and far removed from the mountains of lo-fi, guitar-bashing indie rock filling the Internet.
These are three young guys who play like professionals. Halfway through they treat the audience to an impromptu jam that would have roused a Manhattan Jazz club in to a stomp. Dom Potts’ lightening-fast fingers drive a slap-bass solo whilst Jack bashes out piano riffs with the conviction and skill of a young Elton John. At no point, though, do these fresh-faced maestros appear to show off. They don’t even seem aware of their own talent. The songs are melodic, heartfelt and incredibly easy to listen to, despite their complexity, lying somewhere between Clocks-era Coldplay, Jeff Buckley’s Grace and The Ben Folds Five. A sound like this ensures their appeal to an older generation but Lee Masters’ upbeat drumming is reminiscent of Foals and Late of the Pier, which provides something for young & trendy gig-goers to latch on to.
Just as I was wondering if something was needed to fill the gap between piano and bass, Jack stands up to don a guitar. Their guitar-led songs lack the sharpness of the piano driven numbers but they do well to vary their sound. I am intrigued to hear the results of them playing with both piano and guitar but, as a piano-led trio they are a rarity which, quite rightly, is their appeal. They play with talent beyond their years, acting like pros on stage – even bowing as their set comes to an end. They deserve great things and, if they carry on writing music of this calibre, they will get them.
For more information and gig dates visit:
Humble He: www.facebook.com/humblehe