Ilona and Ricky & the Hats at The Bedford
The Bedford, located on Bedford Hill in Balham, South London, has become a bastion of quality live music over the years, thanks largely to the work of musician (formerly of Iron Maiden & Cutting Crew), producer, radio presenter and promoter, Tony Moore. His eye for exceptional emerging talent and the reputation the venue has gathered attracts some genuinely gifted acts to its stage. The venue’s legacy boasts Ed Sheeran, James Morrison, Paolo Nutini and KT Tunstall in its annals.
On 26th November said prestigious stage was graced by two very contrasting acts: Bulgarian-born solo singer-songwriter Ilona and the very British three-piece band, Ricky and the Hats.
Sultry brunette Ilona opened the show, accompanied by the venue’s own Tony Moore on guitar. We are told that Ilona’s music has been playlisted in Caffè Nero (quite an accolade as this is no easy feat) and that her first song of the evening Love’s Like a Loaded Gun has won an award at the International Music Festival in Malta. Ilona’s vocal is smoky and rich, with a slight rasping edge that is easy to listen to. I could take or leave the award-winning track, but the country vibe suits her voice. After what comes across as a slightly forced start, she relaxes a little into the second song Back to You, letting her vocal speak for itself and by the third track, which we are told is based on a “Victorian murder ballad” (at this point, murmurs of, “gosh, that sounds rather morbid” mixed with a little confusion when she suggests, “some of you may be able to relate to this”, reverberate around the audience, who are engaged with, but not captivated by, Ilona’s performance). In fact, this one is, appropriately, haunting, and Ilona projects it in a soothing tone with an underlying strength that sends it soaring. Unfortunately, there is a disconnect between the vocal and the delivery during this opening performance, and I remain unconvinced of any truly captivating stage presence by the end of the set; a reaction reflected on the faces of the audience.
As if to confirm this, Ilona’s final song of the evening is a track entitled 1966, which is compiled entirely of song titles from that year. She does try to engage with the audience, and her energy and enthusiasm are laudable, but it fails to catch on and the song, rather a dated cliché, is left to fend for itself. Ilona has a beautiful, unique voice and I’m sure many would enjoy listening to her sing a wide variety of music in her sultry tones, so she’s one to watch, but until she bridges the gap between her vocal and her performance, she’s not going to set anyone’s heart on fire.
The energy in The Bedford’s now packed theatre changes entirely when second act, Ricky & the Hats, hit the stage. This three-piece outfit, accompanied tonight by a bass player and drummer, perform music with a Reggae-pop feel, fused with comedic undertones – a phrase that fills me with dread as I imagine some embarrassing routine set over a poor excuse for music. The group performed at the glittering London Rocks event at the Café de Paris earlier this year and, just a few weeks after their creation, were crowned runners up at Open Mic UK 2013 and overall winners of their category. They also garnered the Best Original Song Award from Root 1, so they do have some decent musical credentials.
The band immediately engages with the audience; we can see they are going to be genuinely funny, and, although the crowd takes a while to venture wholeheartedly with them on their comedy journey, they are captivated from the off. Ricky and the Hats are the “fish and chips” of the night, bringing a combination of cheeky “Geezer” comedy in the form of mellifluous rapping from Ricky himself, over a punchy, gutsy lead vocal from singer Rosanna. Their tracks, which include songs titled Pubside Manner and The Geeza, punctuated with lines like “he’s a dirty fella” and peppered with fittingly “naughty words”, have the audience giggling at the everyday scenarios laid out in the cleverly penned lyrics. We are taken on a sweet narrative in the song, Standing by the Door, which tells of the boy who waits for the girl to arrive for a date, but she bottles it at the last minute and will never knock on the door. Many in the audience relate to this and it draws them a step closer into the performance.
There could have been a risk of these guys simply pelting out their songs in a torrent of comedy hype over the audience, but I like the light and shade they bring by performing two of their tracks acoustically, stripping everything back to rely simply on the quality of their musicianship. Although there is still room for maturity and sheen on some of the “big production” tracks during which occasionally we struggle to hear the full extent of Ricky’s storytelling and Rosanna’s more subtle vocal qualities. If we could simply warm the British live music audience up a bit, this band would be flying already, but hopefully, with the considerable traction they have made thus far, and a little persuasion from the cheeky lyrics, irreverent humour and quality musical artistry involved here, the Brits will abandon their stiff upper lip and embrace their inner Geeza before too long.
Photos: KiKoo Village
For further information about Ilona visit her website here.
For Ricky & the Hats visit their website here.