Nicky Bray's Musical Menagerie - All Day Fundraiser - Wharf Chambers, Leeds - Gigs - Reviews - Soundblab

Nicky Bray's Musical Menagerie - All Day Fundraiser - Wharf Chambers, Leeds

by Andy Brown Rating: Release Date:

A quick glance at the news is enough to make anyone lose a little faith in humanity. A constant stream of intolerance, inequality and Nigel ‘when will they stop putting him on the TV’ Farage. It’s a genuine relief then to see an event like Nicky Bray's Musical Menagerie. An annual celebration of local acts and an all-day/ all-ages fundraiser for a good cause. This year’s event sees all proceeds go to Linden Brook, a respite centre for children with disabilities.

Draped in Christmas lights and brandishing a key-tar, Gnomefoam aka Steve Bromley kicks things off around 2pm. A one-man synth-pop artist, Bromley delivers a set of bedsit-born electro-pop as well as a lo-fi reading of Madonna’s ‘Frozen’. At one point, Bromley introduces us to his new band. Two kids take to the stage, one holding balloons while another plays the keyboard. They proceed to play a rather brilliant song about dinosaurs. It’s already obvious that this isn’t going to be a typical gig.

Astrofaun aka Jodi Gunning comes next. Laptop beats and atmospheric, innovative compositions fill the room as Gunning moves to the rhythm. Looped vocals dance through the lo-fi soundscapes as she serenades us with songs about Australian serpent gods and a less than welcome appraisal from an old employer. She finishes with a thoroughly unexpected cover of Run DMC’s ‘Papa Crazy’. A really impressive set, bursting with creativity and inspiration.

Next, it’s the turn of old favourites and indie-pop heroes, The Seven Inches. The band have been quiet of late so it’s a bit of a treat to finally get to see them perform again. Opening with the sugary rush of ‘Peruvian Poncho’; a glorious racket propelled by trumpet, guitar, keyboard and drums. Vocalist Ian Cockburn bounces around with a cut-out, cardboard guitar as the band launch into a set of songs about fictional band practices and the little things that make it all worthwhile. ‘Openness and Honesty’ might just be the greatest indie-pop song you’ve never heard. If you love your indie energetic, fun and full-of-heart then you really need to give them a listen.

The fun continues with the eccentric brilliance of Biscuithead & the Biscuit Badgers. How do I even begin to describe this lot? Dressed in a Fez, vocalist and ringleader Dean Murray leads the charge with his ukulele. The rest of the sound composed of drums, keys and a tuba player dressed as a badger. Quirky cabaret songs about mysterious uncles and model railways are complemented by unexpected U-turns into music-hall hip-hop and singalongs about David Attenborough. With a lot of families in attendance for the afternoon event, it’s a little bit like being at the centre of a particularly bizarre kids party. The show ends with Murray on his knees singing a showstopper about how much he loves cheese.

There’s a short break before the evening session begins. Today’s organiser, performer and all-round musical magician Nicky Bray takes to the stage with pianist, songwriter and jazz-influenced vocalist Emily Mercer. The duo delivers a fun and highly entertaining set of songs about getting older, the perils of having too many words in your songs and a particularly brilliant tune about Loretta the estate agent. Both musicians having an apparently inexhaustible supply of great songs at their disposal. Two really great songwriters showing us how it’s done and having quite a lot of fun in the process.

Nithered aka Rosey Hill arrives next. Hill takes to the stage with her electric guitar to deliver an emotive and powerful set of songs. Emotionally unflinching, the songs address grief (‘No Ordinary Heartbreak’), the 16th century witch trials (‘Only Paradise’) and difficult relationships (‘The Seamonster’). One song finds her singing from the perspective of the devil. The stark tone, raw guitar and passionate vocals put me in mind of the mighty Scout Niblett. Nothing has felt derivative or by-numbers today and Nithered is yet another fine example of an underexposed local talent.

The mood changes yet again with the arrival of Tom Astley. Astley can usually be found singing with Newcastle-Upon Tyne’s self-described “lo-fi progressive rock” band The Palps but is treating us to a solo acoustic set for today’s event. Yet another incredibly gifted songwriter (where does Bray find them all?), Astley offers up a set of outwardly chilled yet frequently political songs. Fireside songs to get us through, “5 more years of bad luck”. The sparse arrangements and Astley’s powerful voice create some real spine-tingling moments. Delivered on an Irish Bouzouki, the superb ‘Trust in the Wolves’ finds Astley addressing the current political mess with passion and humanity; “I could say I’m angry, indignant but really I’m just shook”.

The sheer talent and variety of acts on display today has been truly impressive but we’re not quite done just yet. Bray is back on stage with Mercer and drummer Rachael Rix-Moore to deliver today’s pièce de résistance, Where’s Brian? Before tonight I never knew just how much I needed an all-female, guitar-less Queen tribute act in my life but therein lies the genius of Where’s Brian? Seriously, why has no one done this before? ‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love’ is ridiculously fun, now complete with a kazoo solo. ‘Under Pressure’ gives Jagger and Bowie a run for their money. The whole set is crammed full of love, fun and enthusiasm. An absolute joy.

All the acts played for free and Wharf Chambers didn’t charge their usual fee so the event could raise as much money for Linden’s as possible. That’s the kind of community spirit that no amount of destressing political news can ruin. Yes, everything is a bit of a mess at the moment but after today I’m feeling decidedly more hopeful.

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