Brighton, March 24, 2017
This is a concert I attended over a year ago so, while I may not remember all the details, this review is written to the best of my recollection.
I’ve liked Johnny Flynn’s music for a few years but he doesn’t seem to be touring much lately and I hadn’t seen him live, so when it was announced he was doing a gig in Brighton, an hour’s train ride from London, I saw it as the perfect opportunity for a day by the seaside. When I also saw an ad for an in-store set + signing of his new album, Sillion, the same afternoon before the main concert, I signed up for that as well.
Arriving in Brighton on a sunny Friday, I walked from the station to the record store, Resident Records, where the signing would take place, Resident Records, which is located in a what feels like the bohemian part of town, with lots of little shops and cafes. I continued my walk to the pebble beach which I’ve never really cared much for – sandy beaches all the way for me, please – but being near the sea is always a relief and a revelation and I made sure to get some fish and chips – a type of food I don’t even like very much – just because that’s what you do when you’re by the seaside in England, right?
Back to Resident Records where a line of people waiting for the in-store gig is forming. I talk to a woman from Canada who is in England specifically to see Johnny Flynn and a young couple who seem to be big fans and have seen him several times before. We have the kind of conversation you can have with strangers who you know nothing about and will probably never see again but with whom you share a common interest. Those conversations can sometimes be the best.
About a hundred of us are treated to a short set of about six songs, played on acoustic guitar by Flynn sitting on the counter. He’s two meters away and if it’s intimidating to him to be this close to a group of people watching his every move, he doesn’t show it. It’s fascinating to see a singer that close because you can really see and hear how skilled he actually is. There’s nowhere for him to hide, behind other musicians, or smoke and mirrors, or playback or autotuning. It’s all real and live – and it sounds great.
Afterwards, he signs our records, bless him. I wonder how tiring that must be; turning up to do an in-store mini-gig, a signing and then do a proper gig later. But I guess he’s done this many times before. When he asks me who to make his signature out to, I say my name and he exclaims, ’That’s my daughter’s name’.
Then my new-found friends (for today at least) and I share a taxi down to St. George’s Church and good thing we do because there’s already a long queue of people waiting to get in to get good seats. The Canadian woman and I both get seats near the stage, while the young couple opts for the overview of the balcony seats.
Johnny Flynn and his band The Sussex Wit enter the stage and open the evening with Raising the Dead, a catchy song reeking of melancholy spiked with joy, a combination that sets the tone for an evening of folk songs played by a six-man-strong band, armed with a cluster of instruments including a flute and mandarins, with Flynn also throwing in a couple of trumpet solos later on, in songs like Howl and Brown Trout Blues.
For me, Johnny Flynn’s songs are most effective when played acoustically. I simply think that form of music fits his voice best. So I particularly enjoy songs like the heartbreakingly beautiful Murmuration, and The Water, both quiet songs which allow Flynn’s voice to really shine in all its strengths and fragilities.
Having said that, louder songs like mandolin-heavy Cold Bread and the uptempo, Tickle Me Pink, are played with such conviction and energy that I’d defy anyone not to sing or dance along.
Throughout the evening and especially towards the end people are dancing in the aisles of the church, and when I look up at the young couple in the balcony they both beam down at me with ecstatic smiles. In the end, Flynn plays Heart Sunk Hank (a song whose lyrics, ’Oh the ocean carries me…She carries me away…She carries me back home’, fit the location in a church by the sea perfectly) and The Box, which marks a wondrous ending to a lovely concert, and indeed a lovely day by the seaside.
Johnny Flynn setlist: