With its candles, decorations, world-famous pizza and snug atmosphere, is there any better place to spend a December night than the Old Firehouse? Last Sunday was a cracker of a musical night for students and locals alike.
First up was Sam England with his own unique brand of alternative folk. He didn’t ruthlessly command attention but blended seamlessly into Firehouse’s catchy atmosphere, quietly curling his voice around carefully selected guitar notes while people nodded along. The laid-back beats were just enough to stop me from falling into a guitar and pizza-induced coma. I enjoyed it so much that I was really rather disappointed when his half hour set came to a close. When I chatted to him after, he revealed he’s quite happy not to be the centre of attention. I get the feeling he’ll be increasingly noticed with more performances and an electronic remix in the pipeline.
Slightly reminiscent of Joseph Arthur and Ben Howard, I challenge anybody not to enjoy Sam England’s music. Or to not like him – his friendly personality draws you into his stage presence even more. His story of trying to get his physics lab report finished in between soundchecks and sets at Cavern made me laugh but also reminded me of how impressive student musicians are, juggling their talents and education. Sam England’s latest EP Red Skies, recorded last summer, is available on the usual selection of streams – Spotify, SoundCloud etc – and also in some rather sublimely designed hardcopies. Check out Exeposé Music‘s review of the EP here.
Semi-Toned is more than just a group that sing harmonies – it’s a close-knit community of guys passionate about acapella
In complete contrast to Sam’s chilled out set was Semi-Toned. Bouncing onto the stage, the 15-strong multi-award winning Acapella group exuded energy right from the start. The crowd swelled and there were more than a couple of people busting out some interesting dance moves. The beat boxing and bass were particularly impressive, keeping in line the confident harmonies which at times felt too much and crowded out the lead singers. My personal favourite was their fabulous Macarena, closely followed by Regina Spektor’s ‘Samson’.
Their Christmas medley got everyone in the spirit as usual. It was a shame that the melodies sometimes got lost within the fast, boisterous layers of acapella. I realised this was probably down to the venue; indeed, they were just what was needed to entertain a crowd of thousands the next evening at St James’ Park football stadium for the ECU Carol Service. It’s clear to see that Semi-Toned is more than just a group that sing harmonies – it’s a close-knit community of guys passionate about acapella. They’ve been in hot demand this month totalling eight performances in just the previous seven days.
At the end of Semi-Toned’s long set – how do they remember it all?! – I was tired out just by watching so much exuberance, and so was happy to settle down in the courtyard just before midnight to listen to carols from Exeter University Brass Ensemble (EUBE). If anyone wasn’t in the Christmas mood already, EUBE certainly put them in one. There’s nothing like hearing Christmas carols from a brass band, especially when so flawlessly arranged and conducted. Set up on the cobbles and amongst the tables, EUBE became part of the crowd.
It was a fantastic set up which meant pretty much everyone around – Semi-Toned members included – were singing along to carols ranging from ‘Silent Night’ to ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’. In between songs, while the musician’s papers fluttered, conversations dissolved into nostalgic memories of carols at school, past Christmases and celebrations coming up. EUBE were just what was needed to round off a festive Firehouse session. Humming along to ‘In the Deep Midwinter’ and sipping mulled cider, the ExTunes Christmas party was the perfect way to finish off a busy term. I know I’ll be returning in the New Year to hear more of what our University musicians have to offer.