I nearly saw Johnny Flynn twice, in that he has played in the past at two festivals where I was present, but on both occasions I ended up doing something else, in the case of Latitude festival – watching Blondie.
But tonight Johnny Flynn, for me, went from being an old iTunes song of the week to being somebody in my life, as I went to see his live gig on Kentish Town Rd.
The Flowerpot was packed-out with lovely baby-faced public school types and budding singer-songwriters, but where Johnny’s idealised audience might have held pints of Sussex cider, there instead squatted nude Mulberry handbags perched across sunburnt shoulders as more and more posh female groupies crowded in, cameras poised.
Now Johnny is certainly attractive. Blond, rosy-cheeked and with self-constructed shyness, even if he is much shorter than a Google image search suggests. He didn’t have to do much to please the crowd either, aside from ruffle his hair every minute or so and blush more and more. After his first song a girl yells, “take your top off Johnny”, and it is apparent to all, Johnny included, why people are here to see him, not that many people could see him, partly due to a box venue.
It’s easy for me to disapprove of folk music, since I find it so moss-like and weak as a musical genre - there’s practically no money behind it and the media smarts just aren’t interested. R'n'B, electro, pop - I'm there. Trumpets? November 11 only please. But I do actually like a bit of folk, like Paul Giovanni, the composer of the 1973 Wicker Man soundtrack. I like Jethro Tull too, kind of. (Is Goldfrapp's 4th album folk?)
But today, twenty years or so after Giovanni died of AIDS, folk is very different. In a music scene where the eco ethic is voiced by bands like MGMT, padded out with synths, loop pedals and drum machines. Where does folk stand? Or anti-folk is it called? Or electro-folk? Who knows. But it's not Johnny...
He is awkwardly between the past and the present, and so I'm uncertain whether he has a future. There were no anecdotes between tracks or dialogue with the audience, making it hard to connect with him if you were neither a folk boff or an old school pal. He simply stood and moved through a quite hum-drum set. Not that the crowd weren't appreciative. One girl looked on the brink of an Elvis-fan-style expiry.
Musically the band are strong, there is no arguing with the capabilities of Johnny’s instrumentalists The Sussex Wit, and some choruses are even quite camp and catchy. Still, he’s better suited to being an outdoor performer and my conclusion to tonight’s oddness was that his act grinds somewhat against the ways of Camden nightlife. His audience need room to dance, room to drink, room to smile and to enjoy themselves.
Give me an orchard at night time in Suffolk, a keg of cider and some fairy lights… I’ll happily throw all my clothes off, paint my face, and dance to Johnny all night.
But in the Flowerpot on Kentish Town Rd? No thanks. The audience were more interested in their Jacko death updates. Only one girl really let herself go. In fact, I began to question if he was even that entertaining and so my friends and I began to watch people in the audience. Doesn't every year sprout a few thousand blond pretty boys? They're really nothing special, and without charisma, very perishable.
The Jack of Hearts is written by Jack Cullen