Two contrasting acts - Hannah Ashcroft and Jekyll - topped the bill at the latest Free Vibes event curated by Shell Zenner at Band On The Wall on Thursday night.
If you live in Manchester and frequent the city centre you've probably heard Hannah Ashcroft. Amidst a plethora of buskers performing covers, her voice stands out a mile, whether she's singing one of her delicately crafted originals or a sublime Radiohead cover. Shamefully this is the first time we've seen her play an actual gig and she's got her band in tow for the first time in ages.
The band add a subtle country feel to her songs, whether she's playing electric or acoustic guitar or it be the Gnod collaboration Downfall, the title track from her debut EP The Quiet Kind or two beautiful new ones called On Fire and Under The Static. Her voice doesn't seek to overpower the listener, but to warm them gently and slowly seduce them with subtle intonation and a richness that feels even more comforting here than it does out on the streets.
The audience's reception at the end of each song tells its own story, polite at first, getting louder at the end of each song, almost embarrassing her as she tunes her guitar and talks nervously between songs. Those two new songs, articulately constructed and crafted with a melancholy majesty, suggest that we're going to hear plenty more from her in the next twelve months.
Jekyll are a very different proposition, as is often the cases with bands selected for these nights. They aim for the stratosphere with their songs, big bold anthems that harbour a very evident desire to be played as loud as possible in as big a venue as possible. The songs are emotionally wrought, intense and claustrophobic one minute and the next minute they soar off into the distance. We don't like comparisons, but as the gentleman next to us, a little worse for wear, suggests that they sound like early Muse, before they got ideas of grandeur, we can't help but nod our heads in agreement.
The likes of Othello and Mania from their debut self-titled EP are cases in point. Joel's voice rises and falls with the music, full of passion when the lift comes, but expressive in other ways in the song's calmer moments before the storms of the choruses. They've developed into an exceptionally tight live outfit these days with an attention to detail that's meticulous so the songs do exactly what they intend them to do at the right moment without losing the ambitious uplifting sound that they're trying to create. Sooner or later the door they keep knocking on is going to open and expose them to a wider audience.
Hannah Ashcroft's official site can be found here is on Facebook and Twitter.
Jekyll's official site can be found here and they are on Twitter and Facebook.