Review by Pete Callaghan
Since Aaron Mobberly’s Commitment EP back in January I’ve been looking forward to hearing a bit more from him, and after seeing him about at various venues it got me all excited to hear he had a single release coming up at the ‘mill, even if I did keep getting the date mixed up. So I climbed aboard the ol’faithful, as she should rightfully be known (the 18 bus if you want to be accurate) and darkened the streets of Hanley with my presence once again.
I was little late for the first set by Sam Astley, who’s name I’ve heard banded about over the past couple years, but what I did manage catch I really enjoyed. The guy’s got such a powerful voice, at times I thought he didn’t really need mic’ing up but he’s able to bring it down to such a low, subtle level that shows real skill. It’s indicative of his vocal range and guitar playing that his songwriting was just as good. To underscore this point, he was able to make up a song off the cuff, which was both funny and very catchy. His last track “The Chip Shop Song” was particular good as he heckled the audience to sing along and was joined by friends, who he had previously sung about, who danced their way onto the stage in something that felt rehearsed and spontaneous at the same time. Great set from what I saw.
Next on to the ‘mills stage was Monster I Am who sang mostly ironic melancholy folk numbers. It was hard to decipher whether he sang about actual terrible experiences which had happened to him (like, whoever the girl was he lost, it sounded like she destroyed him) or that he was being satirical about the whole depressing folk scene. To be honest, I think it’s best to not dwell on such matters as it just abstracts itself away from the music so what I’ll write about how the good the tracks were. I enjoyed the Killers cover of “Mr Brightside” and the brilliantly titled “Hunting for Bitches” but “Talk Show Host” really made it for me; it was a gentle, ingenious song, clever and remorseful. Definitely hope he’ll being doing more gigs soon.
Luckily, as it was soon evident, Marc O’Reily decided to stop by Stoke-on-Trent as part of his six-week tour of England - luckily because it’s rare that you get to see someone with who is this good. O’Reily’s style of acoustic playing is unique: from sublime fret tapping, guitar drumming (which he could play at furious speeds) to brilliant blues picking, acoustic numbers. You can hear the passion in both his lyrics and his playing. His track “Foo” stood out as it wasn’t like the blues inspired technical playing I heard in his other tracks but completely soulful and authentic. To see him fully immersed in the moment is an incredible sight; I was utterly mesmerized watching him. He is a spectacular talent from Ireland and all I hope is that I’ll get to see him play live again some day.
Before the main event, we were treated to the debut of Mobberly’s video for “Unison Harmonies”. It’s really well shot, featuring some lovely landscape shots and, of course, the single which is brilliant by itself. Aaron then took to the stage and played a few solo tracks before being joined by Sam Bloor, Brad Malbon and Alexander Howick on lead guitar, drums and bass respectively. It’s the first time I’ve seen Aaron live with a backing band and honestly, I wasn’t sure it was going to work. Aaron’s vocals and chord work is just so special on its own that I thought that the full band setup might be too much live. Thankfully, I was completely wrong. It really gave a lot of emphasis to the tracks and how good the songwriting is. ‘Crayons’ and ‘Commitment’ sounded fantastic, as did ‘Looking for’ and it was nice to see the audience really showing a lot of support for some great music.
When Autumn comes around, I like to listen to folk. I don’t know why, the two just seem to go well together. Over the past couple of years it’s been Midlake’s ‘Trials of Van Occupypanther’ and Fleet Foxes’ debut album and usually some Nick Drake for good measure. But thanks to this gig and the release of ’Unison Harmonies’ I’ve got a lot of local and unsigned acts I can listen to that will fit my Autumn mood well.