As Meilyr Jones proves himself to be charisma personified, Getintothis’ Paul Higham finds the Welsh showman on typically entertaining mood.
Charisma is a curious, indefinable beast. Some artists recognise that it is something they will never possess and choose to focus their efforts on their other talents; others believe they have it yet their endlessly contrived quests to demonstrate it too often prove their undoing. There are, of course, those that simply have it without needing to work at it or even to understand what it is they actually have.
Meilyr Jones falls firmly into the latter category. Dressed in his trademark white long-sleeved top and dark trousers, Jones cuts an unassuming, everyday figure. Until, that is, he takes to the stage, where his performance belies his understated appearance. Indeed, understated is not, at face value, an adjective that would apply to a Meilyr Jones performance.
His shows are packed full of an ardent theatricality and vaudevillian charm, with Jones cutting a loose-limbed, magnetic presence throughout. What is striking about his skill as a performer is both his sense of naturalness and effortlessness. From the opening exuberance of How to Recognise a Work of Art his stage manner never feels like an affectation. It is not choreographed or pre-conceived, it is Jones being himself.
He is not a larger-than-life character that screams “look at me” at any given opportunity in a desperate quest for attention. It helps that his songs marry a mix of confidence and vulnerability and this carries through into the performance. For all the engaging theatrics on show they are counter-balanced by an awkward sense of goofiness and an easy, self-deprecating manner that translates into warm-hearted exchanges with the audience.
Halfway through the set, Meilyr Jones half-apologises for the subdued nature of his performance on account of his mother and aunt being present. Of course the show felt far from subdued, naturally. Responding to a wise-crack from the audience with the line “now my mother knows I’m a cross-dresser” serves only to illustrate his relaxed demeanour. Serious about his art he may be but he is not wont to take himself too seriously.
Yet despite the onstage presence and the power of Meilyr Jones‘ personality, it is the strength of the songs and the instrument-swapping virtuosity of his band that carry the performance. His songs are nuanced and double-edged, they are pop-songs with depth, fragility and lashings of mystery and kooky charm. Where else can you hear a song of the operatic flamboyance of Olivia that in the same breath references Lynyrd Skynyrd‘s Sweet Home Alabama and Beethoven‘s Appassionata, juxtaposed alongside the heart-wrenching beauty and wracked poignancy of Refugees, which features Jones alone on keys.
Elsewhere amid the bluster of Featured Artist, the face of the “Observer’s free magazine” and whose “last performance was a smash” exists a subtle commentary on the transience of fame, superficiality and the sense of anxiety and isolation it can bring. Despite inducing something of an apology for it being a “terrible performance” Strange Emotional was a standout, perhaps owing to its less than faithful rendering. A swirl of whirring and whizzing electronica filled the room, with Jones‘ deliberate angling of of the speakers seeming, however illusory the effect might have been, to create a sense of an ever-enveloping bear-hug of sound.
Notwithstanding his showmanship, the performance ends with a delicate a cappella reading of Be Soft, Jones amid the crowd accompanied only by the mournfully hushed tones of violin and viola. For all his early extravagance Jones demonstrates his delicacy and emotional resonance, proving he can do understated after all. Perhaps that is what charisma is really all about.
Opening act Her’s were immediately impressive with their decidedly lo-fi music, DIY approach and bedsit charms almost mirroring their idiosyncratically unkempt appearance. Yet this was pop-music of melody and tunes, of dreamy summery hazes, without ever being too obvious in its direction. There is a natural ease and unassuming stage presence full of eccentric charm and good humour.
Odd as it may seem there feels something Scottish about them. Perhaps it was the drum machine and hints of electronica, but in their melodic minimalism they recalled Arab Strap, if of course you were to replace the seedy ennui with a slab of angst-dappled summer sunshine. Now they just need to deal with their name, as explaining the precise placing of the apostrophe at the close of the set must surely become something of a chore. Yet if they continue to write songs of such accomplishment and it won’t be long before everyone knows their name.
Less successful were Man & The Echo whose lyrically-focused guitar pop failed to quite hit the mark. Loath to criticise an emerging band there was, nonetheless, a lot to admire here. Infectious foot-tapping indie-pop melodies raced along with vigour and intent, the sort that would surreptitiously worm their way into your brain, while their lyrics presented an often satirical view shaped by current politico-cultural concerns. There was an acknowledgement that this performance might not be to everyone’s taste, before breaking into the set stand-out I don’t Give a Fuck What You Reckon, a tirade against our preponderance to share every aspect of our lives on social media and containing a memorable opening couplet that rhymes Bronte with al dente.
Yet despite a song laced with repeated profanities, it all felt a bit too safe, too obvious and lacking sufficient edge and bite to make the songs really resonate. Yet this isn’t to dismiss out-of-hand. In recalling the sprightly eagerness of the Britpop era with a clear ear for a tune and possessing a tightly honed melodic grip there is much that will endear – hence why they have attracted the attention of James Endeacott‘s 1965 Records – and the band will surely and deservedly move on to bigger and brighter things.
Photos by Getintothis’ Tom Adam