At last, a Friday night gig, for the past few weeks, all I was seeing on the calendar were midweek events, now don’t go calling me picky but there’s something about a weekend audience that differs greatly from the midweek ones, they’ve all had a hard week at work/college and want to let their hair down, something that people are seldom going to do on a Wednesday night knowing that they have an 8am conference call the next morning! We arrived at the Exeter Phoenix venue to a large queue that had formed outside, again, something that hasn’t happened for some time. Being the cunning foxes we are, we snuck in through the rear entrance and made haste to the auditorium that was already half full. I checked the information sheet and was thrilled that there were 3 acts performing, one of which I had seen before at The Phoenix earlier this year when she supported Hudson Taylor.
Amy Yon opened up the proceedings with her lush blend of acoustic music, complemented by her dusky, smoky vocals. She sang a new song about people who “let you down” and another about “talking to yourself” which were very well received.
I chatted to her friend who was stood side of stage and I mentioned that we had seen her earlier in the year where she was a little nervous and had took on a little more liquid refreshment than a performer should have done, he laughed and said that she was now on a strict 2 pint limit before a show. This definitely showed, her performance being 100% tighter than before. Amy is now based in London and is busy working towards her album which I hope will be available for review soon. If you’re in Bristol, you’ll be pleased to hear that she’s starting a residency at the Old Bookshop on North street, the first date is October 7th, why not pop down and see her, she may even buy you a coffee (no promises!)….
Up next was a Manchester based musician called JP Cooper, I must admit to knowing nothing about this dreadlocked troubadour and whilst waiting for the stage to be prepared, I did a bit of research on him and found out that he’s going to be supporting Ella Henderson on her tour later in October, armed with this information, I was really looking forward to his set.
His guitar tech (Simon with the broken foot) told me that JP was full of cold tonight and wasn’t feeling 100% so I expected a less than stellar performance, how wrong was I? His playing was immaculate, his voice exquisite, reaching the high notes with ease. He was switching between a sweet looking Fender Tele and an acoustic guitar, each doing what they were designed to do in order to allow his voice to soar effortlessly above the lush fingerpicked music that his magical hands were producing. He apologised to the audience for “having the lurgy” (nobody would have noticed had he not mentioned it) and was swigging regularly from a carton of mandarin juice which was clearly helping line his throat and providing him with some medicinal assistance.
He said that he had just finished working on his album and had been working the festival season hard over the summer with his band so playing solo on this tour allowed him a bit of a break from having to lug heavy equipment. From the new album, he played a great track called ‘Read Your Mind’, I have tried to find more information on the album but nothing is jumping out at me, I’ll be sure to announce information as soon as it is available.
After his set, I chatted to him briefly and asked him what his highlights were over the summer, he said that Lowlands Festival in Holland was pretty cool and opening up Latitude Festival was definitely up there. He also said that he met the members of lo-fi experimentalists Portishead and also saw Thom Yorke ‘kicking around’. You can see JP Cooper on the remaining Rhodes tour dates, then he plays a handful of headline shows including The Koko in Camden on October 15th prior to hitting the road with Ella Henderson, goodness, this guy is BUSY, let’s hope he loads up on Mandarin juice, kicks the lurgy and has the time of his life!
By now the auditorium was full, this posed an issue for us, it meant owing to the lack of a barrier, my photographer was going to have to fight through the hordes of teenage fans in order to shoot some decent pics, being the polite person he is, he managed to worm his way to the front to get some amazing photos. ‘Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad’ came booming through the PA system, I thought this was the intro to the band taking to the stage but alas, it wasn’t….
The band took to the stage and fired into life, Rhodes bounding onstage shortly afterwards to a huge cheer, proving that this guy has already built a phenomenal fan base across the country. His music could be categorized as ‘moody’, ‘atmospheric’ or ‘solemn’, I found it to be uplifting, passionate, full of heartfelt emotion in every song. His voice was so gentle between songs, thanking the audience for coming to see him and managing to beat down a repeat heckler who told him on numerous occasions that she loved him by simply telling her that she was “too kind”.
For someone who only starting singing a few years back, you may well ask (as I did) what took him so long? In a recent interview, he said that he always played guitar but was far too scared to sing, I’m so glad he decided to take the plunge as I think his voice is immense, a gift that most people would give their right arm to possess. For Rhodes, it appears to come naturally, as does his skill of being a multi instrumentalist having played everything on his album ‘Wishes’ which having been released in mid September is selling by the bucket load.
Rhodes’ band was on top form, guitar, bass, drums and cello/keyboards were available on tap to help create the ambiance and atmosphere that he required to deliver his manifesto, I can’t not mention the cello players sparkly showbiz boots, they were ace and I think that everyone should have a pair to wear on stage when on tour! Their vocal harmonies were immense, combined with Rhodes’ tender voice it formed a highlight of their set.
He played a variety of tracks from his ‘Wishes’ album as well as a couple that are only available on the deluxe edition, highlights for me from the evening included a solo performance of ‘Breathe’ which brought the auditorium to its knees, his fragile, tender vocals breaking into a controlled roar during the chorus, absolutely captivating stuff. ‘Let It All Go’ which he performed alongside Birdy received a huge cheer and apologized for not having Birdy there with him on tour to perform it in all its glory. ‘Your Soul’ sounded sublime, starting out with simple keys and guitar before the band kicked things up a notch, taking flight and soaring high like an eagle way above the heads of the spellbound audience.
The band left the stage at the end of the set, leaving the audience wanting more. Rhodes once again took to the stage for a solo performance of ‘Morning’ another offering from the deluxe version of the album. He left the room to rapturous applause, leaving the PA to kick out some smooth filler to accompany the hoards exiting the room.
He may be a relative newcomer to the music scene but I think the days of him playing in smaller, more intimate venues are definitely numbered, he posed for the young ladies on the front row and spent over an hour stood at the merchandise table, signing autographs, posing for ‘selfies’ and generally doing everything that you would expect from someone wanting to win over and build upon his already loyal army of followers. I too queued up to speak to him after the performance and commented on the fact that although he is left handed, he plays the guitar right handed, I asked if he considered himself the new ‘Hendrix’ to which he offered a wry smile and explained that he learned to play the guitar that his dad always had lying around the house and had never seen the point of switching to a left handed instrument. I did manage to refrain from asking him for a ‘selfie’, I don’t think I have ever asked anyone for one of these in my life thus far and being the tender age of 43, I hope I never do!
Words by Steve Muscutt
Pictures by Bruce Benson www.241photography.co.uk