Monday 27th March
It has been almost a decade since Johnny Flynn emerged on the nu-folk scene with his band the Sussex Wit. Over four studio albums, their sound has changed little over time – while other artists of the genre (Laura Marling, Mumford & Sons) ventured to new realms and honed their sound, Johnny Flynn and his band have remained very much in the traditional realm. Yet this is their unique charm – consistently providing timeless country folk which articulates the sound of the English countryside in which it was born.
They return to Edinburgh following their latest release, Sillion – a record which is resonating and buoyant as ever, with folksy melodies, swirling polyphony and deeply poetic lyrics.
Tonight the band were supported by Holly Holden y su Banda. The title of their EP Tropical Soul can best sum up their sound –bilingual love songs punctuated by tropical beats. Bassist and front-woman Holly filled the room with her strong, soulful vocals and enchanting headdress. She went on to play percussion with the Sussex Wit.
Things were just starting to get uncomfortable when Johnny Flynn and The Sussex Wit took the stage. La Belle Angèle was instantly transformed from a predictable, dingy music venue into intimate, folk haven; the sticky floor seemed to vanish; there was a new sense of community within the cramped crowd. They opened with the first of the new singles, ‘Raising The Dead’, a swaying, rhythmic anthem, and homage to Flynn’s late father.
The band debuted tracks fresh from new album Sillion along with well-worn classics like ‘The Wrote & The Writ’, ‘Lost and Found’ and ‘The Water’. In the latter, Laura Marling’s part in the duet was taken by Johnny’s sister Lillie Flynn, a member of The Sussex Wit. The highlight of the performance was Flynn pulling a trumpet as if from nowhere and expertly hammering out the solo of ‘Howl’. Seconds after he moved the mouthpiece from his lips he was singing soulfully into the mic and picking his guitar again. It was flawless multi-instrumentalism.
Johnny Flynn has a rare ability to transition in seconds from eccentric country rock to tender, soulful acoustic lullabies. He kept chat with the crowd to a minimum, letting the music speak for itself.
The venue was perhaps too small to house such animated music, so the effect was noisy at times. We missed out on some of the definition of each talented instrumentalist, which can be enjoyed on the studio recording. It was welcome when Johnny Flynn returned to the stage for an encore without his band. Flynn’s voice resounded through the silent crowd as he performed ‘Heart Sunk Hank’, an aching, tender lament accompanied by simple yet swelling guitar.
The Sussex Wit returned for two more classic songs, then were gone, leaving a satisfied air behind them. The performance was by no means flawless, but Johnny Flynn is not a live act to be missed – his talent is pure and his passion is real.
Image: Steve Gullick