Like most things in life, live music is best experienced alongside a bowl of delicious noodles, and Mr Wolf’s proved adept in providing that necessity for its punters. Some bars draw the line at peanuts, but the quick-witted staff at ‘Wolfies’ know better; that live music crowds are demanding, angry beasts that can only be sated with a sufficient amount of gastro-stuffing.
Nestled in a side-street just off the centre, the popular venue has played host to many club nights, Communion being one of its most popular and acclaimed.
Founded by Ben Lovett (Mumford and Sons), Kevin Jones (Cherbourg) and producer Ian Grimble at the Notting Hill Arts Club in 2006, Communion has since expanded to incorporate English venues as well as Melbourne, Australia! To say it has been a success is to be making quite the mild statement.
Issue One was curious to see if the necessary combination of musical quality, emotion and good ol’ finger-clicking, clog-stompin’ entertainment would come together.
Well by gum it certainly did.
Kicking of this surge of appreciation was Rob Bravery, whose light-hearted opening soothed the crowd after their no doubt hectic weekends.
Switching between finger-plucked guitar and the keyboard, all his songs retained a common thread of free-wheeling abandon, as tunes were dispensed with mid-performance. Rob later explained “My music is like a train- once it goes off the rails, there’s no way of putting it back on later!”.
(Post-set, I was informed by a friend of Rob’s that she was perhaps to blame for his ramshackle performance, as she had led him on a mammoth drinking session the night before. See what we mean by ‘no-doubt hectic weekends’...)
Such an account is of no disservice to his talent, as he proved himself quite the bohemian auteur with intricate keyboard arrangements such as ‘Hedonistic Graveyard’, which swooped from a lustrous and rousing opening to a stuttering vocal chorus through which his music intermittently reappeared.
As the night’s title would imply, the reception to Rob’s music revealed a good-natured, sociable crowd and Mr Wolf’s seemed the perfect host; a low-lit hideaway where the audience hung to the sides, tucked away with draught beers and spirited gossip.
Toyface were the next act charged with wooing the listeners. A six-piece set-up akin to Arcade Fire, they took to the stage swiftly, and lead singer Tamsin exposed a fiery voice during an a cappella intro that melted into a gorgeous melodic composition.
Jemma Brett added gravitas with a disarming performance on violin, her contribution best exposed on following track ‘Death of an Oldboy’. An ode to the vocalist’s recently departed grandfather, it was a quietly poignant number best captured by the repeated refrain “Fire burns, breeze blows dust away”.
From this point on the crowd were theirs, rattling through up-tempo bluegrass numbers, a candy-coated cover of ‘Happy Days’ and achingly serene tunes.
If Toyface were well-received, then Matt Corby was by comparison a full-house standing ovation. The biggest buzz on the night was focused on this chap and it wasn’t just for his roguish good-looks or, more importantly, his crowd-stealing performances on Australian Idol three years previous.
If limited to vocals alone, Matt would have still brought grown-men to tears; as it was, his delivery of layered vocals amongst minimalist guitar meanderings drew an instant silence over the venue.
His songs were delicate, haunting affairs- notably on standout track ‘My False’- and his confident performance exhibited the product of a hard-grafting ethic, honed through years of post-Idol touring.
A remarkable talent for a man so light on years (he was only 16 when he came runner-up in the Australian Idol 2007 finals), Matt seemed to be breaking hearts as he played, his sparse, whispered vocals then racing upwards to a soul-drenched wail behind which his patterned guitar layers trembled.
Departing to riotous applause, Matt made way for Howlin’ Lord, who took charge of shaking the crowd from their reverie with a barrage of punkish attacks infused with a keen sense of blues.
Employing an American twang (in the lead’s accent, not just guitar style) they made their allegiances clear with the eponymous Howlin’ Lord sporting an ‘I Love Neil Young’ t-shirt and his band producing a sound reminiscent of Springsteen, The Black Lips and the early albums of the Kings of Leon.
They succeeded in tempting the audience to their feet, with a raucous bluegrass tempo- albeit to songs that urged their listeners to “don’t go falling in love”.
Their tunes were infused with a kind of abandoned, reckless ennui. The howled vocals of “for every ray of sunshine, there’s a thousand drops of rain” would seem to say it all, but the music was a different notion- a loosely upbeat sound coined ‘Fuck-you-grass’ by the ‘Lord’.
Final act Pete Lawrie happily continued this feel-good affair, contributing to the atmosphere with the rumbling freight-train racket that Johnny Cash made famous. Soon to make a name for himself on the ‘Introducing...’ stage at Radio 1’s Big Weekend, the Welsh wonder had Mr Wolf’s in a toe-tapping, hootenanny uproar.
‘How Could I Complain?’ went down a storm; and as a parting thought it was apt.
Given the broad spectrum of progressive folk music on offer and a community spirit that engendered friend-making and the sharing of drinks and noodles, there seemed very little to complain about at Communion.
Communion runs monthly at Mr Wolf’s, on each second Sunday night.
Visit communionmusic.co.uk for more details