Opening the Old Firehouse’s bolthole stage last Sunday was Kathy Giddins. Bringing just a ukulele and her confidently soaring voice onto stage, she had the respectable-sized crowd captivated in no time. Her massive vocal range took us through her own songs, covers and parodies, including One Direction’s ‘Perfect’ in which she changed the word “perfect” to “a lesbian”, ensuing in quite a few cheers from the crowd.
Sixpence None The Richer’s ‘Kiss Me’ was a flawless fit to Kathy’s lilting voice, as was Ed Sheeran’s ‘Thinking Out Loud’. Her set was at least 45 minutes, and interspersed with her own songs including ‘The Trouble With You’ and ‘The Cat’ (including meows, which I particularly loved because meows are how I usually sing along to songs). ‘The Paris Metro Song’ draws on her time spent working in the French capital and was the stand out song, using the uke to create percussion sounds alluding to the sound of the underground. I watched as a couple came in the door, peered round the doorframe to the stage on the left, and mouthed “wow” to each other.
Kathy’s upward inflections and strong ukulele strumming makes her distinctive on stage and I’m sure the crowd won’t be forgetting her in a hurry. The closest comparison I can think of is Gabrielle Aplin, but that doesn’t do Giddins’ voice and vocal range justice. As my boyfriend said, “She’s really good.” (This is high praise for two reasons: he’s really picky about music, and he’s a local so isn’t the biggest fan of students.) Live music is so enjoyable when the audience can tell that the artist on stage is legitimately enjoying themselves; Kathy was smiling through the words and bobbing around, confidently picking on the strings. She was the perfect start to a Sunday night.
What people are calling the dark horse of Campus Bands’ Battle of the Bands will, I reckon, quickly become a forerunner
In the few minutes before the next artist Chiara and The Vu came on, more and more people came through the doors and the already bustling crowd swelled to a pack of sardines. No one could move to get a drink; and no one seemed to want to. In order to actually see who was on stage I had to stand on my seat. The atmosphere was huge, and the performance matched that.
It takes courage to belt out notes that strongly in a place as little as the Old Firehouse, but Chiara had it mastered. Reverberating guitars and smacking drums could have been too much, but it worked – the band seemed to know instinctively the crowd wanted energy, and gave it to us in spades. Just as I felt like we needed a lull to keep the atmosphere fluid, we got one: tension climbed with pared back voice and percussion before diving back in again and getting the audience moving. From Coldplay’s rollicking ‘Adventure of a Lifetime’ to an Adele and then a Two Door Cinema Club cover, the only thing this band lacks is a dedicated encore and their own songs, which Chiara reassured me afterwards are in the pipeline.
The Italian first year had success as a singer/songwriter in London, and spent 2 months finding the right selection of people in Exeter to form her band. That dedication shows in their slick performance which belies how little time they’ve actually had together. Chiara’s entrancingly confident stage presence is replicated in her enthusiasm when she told me how “each person brings something to the band, and we create a fusion.” What with the respect she has for every single one of them as artists, and the fact that James seemed to have his own fan base (calls of “take your top off James” “yes James!!” abounded), I regret not catching the other band members afterwards. What people are calling the dark horse of Campus Bands’ Battle of the Bands will, I reckon, quickly become a forerunner. Catch them in the Lemmy in the third round on 18 February.
As students drifted away, The Azimuth Coordinator were left with an intimate crowd of a more balanced demographic. I was initially dubious about the night’s final band, but within 5 minutes my doubts had ceased. You wouldn’t think a saxophone would match deep bass and crashing percussion but, somehow, it just did. Laura Neill on the sax later brought a monotron into play, skilfully manipulating the synthesiser sounds until the music was a multi-layered wall of sound reverberating the bench beneath us.
It rounded off the night perfectly – the crowd grew over the course of the set until there was a solid audience. The drummer manipulated the pace well and the audience swayed to prog/pysch songs that in places made me think of outer space or deep oceans. Song names like ‘Colossus’ suit the band well – Azimuth certainly don’t do music by halves. Named after a sound system popularised by Pink Floyd performances, even despite being plagued by phone feedback noise the eclectic instrument mixture whipped the crowd up until everyone in the room – glass collectors included – were rocking out old school.