Saturday night was spent in slight reminiscence of school assemblies, although obviously the occasion was infinitely better than any assembly I remember. Johnny Parry and his Chamber Orchestra were playing in Islington Town Hall, a hall just like you forgot school halls were like: chairs brought out especially for the occasion, slotted together in neat rows, the high stage, framed by a Latin God-related quote above.
The first support act crept quietly and unannounced on stage, through a myriad of instruments and music stands, while most were still acquiring a drink or two to see them through the evening. Unassumingly plonking away at the piano keys was Roger Illingworth of Buzzard Lope, sans his Buzzard Lope band mates. Undoubtedly a talented musician, but his somewhat posed, forced awkwardness was unfortunately more off-putting than anything else. The second act, Ali Thoburn and Will Rees who together are Binary Band, were not any better. As my Northern friend astutely pointed out: ‘they’re from the North and are singing with American accents.’ And indeed they were. Clearly American folk rock is a big influence, but the accents just seemed an affectation too far.
Before too long, however, Johnny Parry and that thirty-piece orchestra of his graced the stage, and oh my, what a treat they were. Beginning with ‘Kicking and Screaming Alternate Version,’ an uplifting build of strings, brass and drums, with Parry’s ever present, wonderfully gruff vocals joined by his small but perfectly formed chorus. And everything which followed was just as enjoyable. A live setting is hands down the best way to experience the Johnny Parry Chamber Orchestra. There is a wonderful juxtaposition of darkness and melancholy with lighter tones, irony with honesty, humour with sobriety. Each element of the orchestra complements the others perfectly, and each track is accompanied by a short film or animation, courtesy of Andy Holden. They are certainly a talented bunch who know how to put on a good show. And Parry’s inter-song chit-chat was equally engaging, witty and relaxed, he even brought forth a couple of bellowing belly-laughs. It was an hour of visual and aural delight which seemed to pass all too quickly.