Live & Local is the latest brainchild of music promoter Rastarella Falade, whose not-for-profit organisation Cultural Vibrations has been active since 2009, staging events at the Hockley Hustle and the NEAT11 Festival and organising the Takeover showcase at Nottingham Riviera. As ever, Rastarella’s aim was to highlight a diverse range of local talent, bringing fans of different genres together in order to appreciate the full spectrum of what Nottingham has to offer.
As the Playhouse is currently staging a production of Noël Coward’s Private Lives, the eight acts on Live & Local’s bill found themselves performing in what looked like a period drawing room, complete with grand piano, standard lamp and rear windows opening out onto a street scene. This suited opening act Elena Hargreaves rather well, adding a touch of extra class to her stately, elegant and heartfelt performance. Elena’s parents were in the audience, and were duly pointed out to us. (“My mum’s sitting over there, and my dad’s sitting over there – but they’re not divorced!”)
Opening with a cover of Feeling Good, Elena reclaimed the Nina Simone classic from the various maulings that it has endured from X Factor hopefuls over the years – not that she’s a stranger to talent competitions herself, having made it to the finals of the Open Mic UK contest last year. Her first ever self-composition, Don’t Go Leaving Me, was also introduced as a competition winner in its own right. Now moved to London, Elena is about to shoot her first video in Los Angeles, and a debut EP is in the offing.
“Welcome to my living room, guys. Please take your shoes off.” Undaunted by the incongruity of his surroundings, and eager to charm a crowd that might not be in the habit of attending too many hip hop nights, Karizma worked hard to forge a rapport with the seated audience. His mum was there too, watching her son for the first time, seventeen years into his rapping career. (He must have started young, then.) Perhaps this was why, when introducing his new single Bad Boy, Karizma was so keen to distance himself from its title. “I’m a bad boy – but in a different way”, runs the chorus, and as he explained, “I’m not gonna lie to you, I’m thirty years old now and I’ve got bills to pay – I ain’t got time for that.” Produced by Nottingham’s Junglewire Film, its video debuted on YouTube last week. “It hasn’t got girls shaking themselves about”, we were assured. “I’m not like that.” (In truth, the video does feature female dancers, exercising themselves with some degree of vigour – but, you know, in a different way.)
Joined by live musicians for the close of his set, Karizma treated us to a live freestyle, in which he constructed an impromptu rap based on suggested subjects from the audience. (“It’s my birthday!”, someone shouted, slightly missing the point of the exercise.) It takes a special talent to construct a meaningful flow from the topics he was given – determination, wolves, freedom and the NHS, if you please – but the MC passed the test with flying colours, drawing mid-track cheers for each new lyrical flourish.
The ever-dependable, ever-delightful Nina Smith followed, accompanied by her three-piece boy band (or “man band”, or “hit-by-the-handsome-stick troubadour ensemble”, or whatever she cares to call them next). Nina has been working on a new set for a while now, so this might have been one of the last opportunities to hear the old one – but songs as strong as Lonely Heart Club, Sexy Surprise and the stunning I Won’t Forget You surely won’t be lost forever. And if, as is rumoured, the new tracks are going to carry a little more grit, a little more bite and a little more oomph, then perhaps we had a foretaste of it here, as the acoustic-led delicacy of Nina’s debut EP showed signs of making way for a more amped-up, revved-up approach.
Nina’s mash-up of the Spice Girls’ Two Become One and Sting’s Message In A Bottle (no, really, it worked a treat) eased us nicely into the reggae-rock stylings of Jimmy The Squirrel, who closed the first half of the show. (Not that we were allowed to dawdle during the interval; Rastarella ran a tight ship, and a fifteen minute break during a three and a half hour show was all that time permitted.) Featuring the ubiquitous Jody Betts (Royal Gala, Tray Electric, Hey Zeus) on keyboards, the five-piece rattled through an energetic set, which should by rights have got the whole audience up and dancing – and had there been a few more chances to visit the bar during the evening, perhaps we would have done, but the gravitational force which a theatre brings to bear upon twitching backsides is hard to overcome. To compensate to for our collective inertia, a scattering of loons emerged behind the rear windows during the second song, skanking furiously.
The second half of the evening began with Mique, a singer-songwriter who learnt her craft singing in church, before progressing to the soulful balladry which now characterises her performances. Accompanied by a lone guitarist called Simon, her songs spanned a range of emotions. On I Deserve, she displayed proud defiance towards a false lover. (“You said you wanted me – you lost.”) For Call Me Baby, she became more imploring, and for her newest composition Believe, her forceful sense of self-belief found its fullest expression. And on every song, the force of Mique’s personality and the scorching power of her vocals drew you into her emotional world, allowing you to journey with her.
By the time that the teenage indie duo Saint Raymond took to the stage, the elegant room had started to feel more like a student bedsit. The lads have already come a long way since their appearance at Derbyshire’s Y-Not Festival in early August, where – as the first act of the final day, playing in a large tent to a sparse and still booze-battered crowd – they had seemed a little swallowed up by their surroundings. This time round, the playing had tightened, the voices had gelled and the whole performance seemed more relaxed and more outwardly focussed. Faded Colour got the crowd clapping along – entirely unprompted, always a good sign – and Callum and Elliot’s chugging, purposeful, almost skiffley strumming, combined with the wide-eyed romanticism of songs such as She Said No, Perfect Picture and Bonfires, was warmly received.
From the youngest performers on the bill, we switched to the oldest, as Saint Raymond’s rough-edged acoustic indie made way for the seasoned smoothness of Marvin Brown’s band. Combining dancehall flavours with a classic reggae template, the players – all decked out in branded Marvin Brown t-shirts – provided expert support for their inscrutably capped and shaded front man, showing a marked reluctance to leave the stage once their assigned twenty minutes were up. (“Life is a rocky road”, we were informed, over and over again, the band seemingly caught on an endless loop.) But Rastarella’s schedule was not to be messed with, and a couple of meaningful stares put paid to any chances of an encore.
Introducing Breadchasers, the last act of the night, Rastarella declared herself in the mood for dancing, imploring us to follow suit. (“Just because you’ve paid for these seats, it doesn’t mean you have to sit in them all night!”) Finally, the spell was broken, as the band’s riotous ska-punk pulled ever greater numbers of skankers to the front of the stage, bringing the spirit of Mansfield Road to Wellington Circus. This prompted keyboardist Ben Wager to introduce crowdsurfing to the Playhouse, almost certainly for the first time in its 48 years of existence. The surprisingly flexible drawing-room-turned-bedsit morphed once again, now resembling the set of Madness’s Our House video, as all residual decorum was thrown to the winds. Well, when faced with a turbo-charged ska cover of Dire Straits’ Walk Of Life, what else can you do but party?
Live & Local took place at Nottingham Playhouse on Sunday 16 October 2011.