James Holt has been a long-term favourite of John, and ourselves, and over the course of the past few years he's built a set of wonderfully-crafted songs, steeped in the richest traditions of singer-songwriter yet with a very individual element. He's become a very gifted storyteller too, recounting the tales behind the likes of Come Out To Play, The Wedding and Alone Again, songs which feel intensely personal, like a comforting arm around the shoulder, a hug that tells you that things will be alright in the end. Stripped down to just an acoustic guitar augmented by Molly's violin and backing vocals, which provide the perfect foil to James, and the perfect acoustics of the building, we muse whether he's just too talented to be successful given the increased disposability of music these days.
Jon Coley has been a familiar face around Manchester to us, but this somehow is the first time we've seen him play. A phenomenal guitarist, we're transfixed by his playing, managing to coax sounds out of an acoustic and electric guitar that don't quite seem possible. Very much a musician's musician, taking the mickey out his manager's frustration at him tuning my ear before even starting, he mixes covers including Dillinger's Cocaine Round My Brain and John Martin's Small Hours (a song he bonded with John over - and which he describes playing solo as trying to play "the Brandenburg Concerto with a flute" but still pulls off immaculately. His own songs Sympathy For Judas, about feeling sorry for those who don't deserve it, and A Love Like This, are steeped in the very finest traditions of songwriting and his own unique voice gives them a real intimate edge. He finishes on the piano at the back of the church with a cover of Stephen Kellogg's Prayers, one of favourite ever songs and artists.
The Blackheart Orchestra are a band that have escaped our attention, although not John's, despite being years and albums into their career. Although just a duo, they make the sound of a dozen with Crissy's ethereal emotional vocals sat dead centre of an intoxicating mix of keyboards, guitars and layered vocals and harmonies. Influences in the sound range from the classical to high energy electronica, often within the same song to form an intoxicating fascinating and unique sound. The set takes heavily from last year's album Mesmeranto as well as a few new songs from their forthcoming record form the main part of the set - Violet, Drown Me Out and early single Sebastian being particular highlights of an impressive end to a wonderful evening.