The Little Noise Sessions in aid of Mencap are now into their seventh year. Curated by Jo Whiley, the gigs take place over six or so nights, with a choice of lineups designed to please most music lovers. The artists give their time free to the Mencap charity, which is struggling with the government’s further cuts to services for those with learning disabilities.
The Little Noise gigs are happening at the St John-at-Hackney Church in east London. It’s a unique and wonderful 18th-century building, sadly in need of some funds itself – tonight clever use of blue and pink lighting gives the church’s interior a moody and cool atmosphere and hides the damage. It’s great to see such a varied crowd at this gig, including several parents with their young teenage offspring.
Wednesday opens with the London band, King Charles. Focus on stage is on the theatrical and flamboyant figure of King Charles himself – part 80s glam, part gypsy, with a touch of Prince. The band’s material similarly encompasses a varied mix of styles from indie to folk and reggae. It’s swaggery, celebratory stuff, all about love lost, love found. The track Love Lust in particular stands out.
There’s a strong sense that many are here tonight for First Aid Kit, the Swedish sister-duo, on stage with their drummer, and BJ Cole adding his inimitable pedal steel guitar. Sisters Johanna and Kara give a heart-stoppingly beautiful set, and the crowd seem utterly rapt. Second number in is Blue with its exquisite harmonies, later they sing the plaintive number Emmylou, and Lion’s Roar. They slot in America by Simon and Garfunkel – I saw FAK perform at Shepherd’s Bush the night before where they performed this number as an encore, telling us that playing it live for Paul Simon was one of their most terrifying moments.
The final act is Richard Hawley who bounds on stage to massive applause and kicks off with the title track from his new album, Standing at the Sky’s Edge. The set is a mix of his new material, such as a brooding version of Down in the Woods, with some of his older ballads, but Hawley isn’t crooning tonight. It’s a far harder edged set, and it sounds great. It’s not usual to get an encore at Little Noise, but we’re in luck. ‘What do you want to hear” Hawley asks. Someone’s request is granted and he launches into Smoke on the Water, well the first few bars anyway, before playing Ocean – a killer version, with its rippling and dense guitar, I keep willing it not to end.
Tonight was one of those gigs that feel very special. And it’s for a good cause.