Words by Holly Pyke
After many years producing and engineering, Ethan Johns is now performing solo; currently touring to promote his debut album ‘If Not Now Then When?’, supported by Marika Hackman.
Promoting her own debut album, ‘That Iron Taste’, Hackman stepped on stage to a polite and enthusiastic Glee Club audience; but by the time she got to her third song, ‘Cannibal’, my heart was sinking fast despite her best attempts to be witty and engaging.
Hackman’s voice is pretty and has an undeniable purity, however the arrangements of her songs follow a generic formula rendering them utterly forgettable.
There was little variation in the tempo and tone, with lyrics that lacked maturity (which is unsurprising considering she’s only, on initial research, 19 years old). My companion reflected, “she needs to get her heart broken a few times so she can write some better songs”.
Aware of Ethan Johns’ considerable career, playing and producing for artists from Joe Cocker to The Vaccines, I was interested to see how he would adapt to performing his own material as a solo artist.
The Glee Club audience appeared to largely comprise of hardcore Johns’ fans, who were transfixed from the opening track ‘Hello Sunshine’ and throughout the entire set; revelling in every opportunity to engage with Johns about his music and forthcoming album, which many had already purchased prior to the official release date.
Cue long, drawn out tales of Johns’ time working with musicians in the USA and UK; dropping so many names that if my milkman’s cat had any notoriety I’m sure he would have been mentioned as a close personal friend.
Although Johns’ hardcore fans appeared entertained and amused, I felt patronised and a little confused, as though excluded from a private joke shared by close friends.
Comfortable and confident onstage, Johns’ voice had an engaging depth of expression. However he appeared to emulate Bob Dylan, both musically and in persona, whilst interspersing this with long drawling vocals reminiscent of Mick Jagger.
Unfortunately many of the tracks, including ‘Rally’ – which you’d hope to be a rousing protest song complete with guitar and harmonica, felt like album fillers and as forgettable as those performed earlier by Hackman.
Although ‘Whip-Poor-Will’, with a gently ambling, folksy quality – almost that of a lullaby, was truly memorable. And the slightly edgier, more blues influenced, ‘Red Rooster Blue’ and ‘Hello Sunshine’, also maintained their distinction; with their contrast in tempo and style affording dimension to an otherwise uninspiring set.
Had Dylan and Jagger never existed, I would probably have been totally enthralled and entertained. However, they do exist, and I am familiar with them and the many, many subsequent artists inspired by or imitating them.
Johns’ set eventually came to a penultimate close with ‘The Long Way Round’, receiving a particularly zealous applause that quite frankly baffled me.
Personally it felt like the folly of a man tired of the production shadows, looking for a few minutes of his own in the limelight; one replicating other successful artists, but ultimately leaving me disappointed and bored.
For more on Ethan Johns, including digital downloads of ‘If Not Now Then When?’, visit http://www.ethanjohns.com
For more on Marika Hackman, visit http://www.marikahackman.com
For more gigs at the The Glee Club, visit http://www.glee.co.uk/birmingham-music