As The Stands’ Howie Payne makes his Liverpool return at Leaf, Getintothis’ Jamie Bowman sees the mercurial talent on fine form.
Leaf Café is five years old this month and it’s probably worth remembering how lucky we are to have the kind of venue that lends itself beautifully to evenings like this. It’s a gorgeous setting with Leaf’s lights shining on three solo performers who all contribute to one of those intimate nights in which each artist adds something highly singular to the atmosphere.
First up is Mancunian pianist Charlotte Cannon whose surfeit of kook can’t help but recall the polarizing figure of Joanna Newsom. Clad in what looks like the carcass of a long-dead vulture, Cannon shrieks and whoops her way through a lightning-quick set of startling songs which demand attention with their strangeness and ambition. The jury is out but there’s something undoubtedly interesting going on here which is worth further investigation.
Like Cannon will surely learn, being known for your “distinctive voice” isn’t always a good thing. Blackpool’s Karima Francis has been hotly tipped as a ‘next big thing’ for over five years now but a succession of disappointing major label albums, illness and an individual look and sound that has somehow failed to chime with the public has seen her career stall. Skinny and androgynous with a mop of curly hair, it’s hard not to think of both Patti Smith and Bob Dylan as she strums her electric guitar. Perhaps more overt is the influence of Jeff Buckley on beautiful confessionals like Perfect Dream on which she wraps that extraordinary voice around a song worthy of the attention of the growing crowd.
It’s a warm reception that greets Howie Payne perhaps making up for the fact that this one time fixture on Liverpool’s music scene has been absent from his home town stages for half a decade. Back when the nation’s A&R men were flocking to Merseyside in the wake of The Coral’s success, Payne – already something of a veteran – was a deserved recipient of the nation’s love with top 40 hits and Noel Gallagher’s approval the reward. Back then The Stands’ gentler West Coast take on Cosmic Scouse seemed unashamedly retro but no worse off for it with Payne’s American twang and the band’s Byrdsian harmonies chiming successfully on the band’s two albums.
These days Payne is undoubtedly more mature both in looks and voice and backing himself on just acoustic guitar and harmonica Stands songs like It’s Only Everything and Here She Comes Again take on a battered charm full of life and experience. Keen for this comeback to be forward thinking, Payne stresses the fact that he never really went away and revisits the songs he provided for Ren Harvieu’s 2012 album such as Do Right Be Me and Forever In Blue as well as freshly minted tracks such as Hold Steady The Wire which hint that a second solo album will be worth the wait.
Closing the set with the gorgeous sun-dappled All Years Leaving and a great run through of Stands favourite I Need You, Payne seems genuinely moved by the appreciation he’s afforded. It’s no more than this mercurial talent deserves.
Pictures by Getintothis’ John Johnson.