XFM X-Posure: Joseph Coward and Kiran Leonard at the Barfly
John Kennedy of XFM brings the philosophy of his show X-Posure (on XFM Monday to Thursday,from 10pm to 1am), to regular gigs at Camden’s Barfly, aiming to showcase the best in new music, recorded live for later consumption by his listeners.
Though only 22, Joseph Coward brings more than four years experience to the stage, so it’s a disappointment when it’s odd staging that leaves his performance here struggling to get off the ground. On record, the gothic poetry at play in Coward’s lyrics comes alive when backed by lush instrumentation, but here he has stripped the arrangement back so that his brooding vocal is accompanied only by “John” on acoustic guitar.
John stands ten-feet wide and rear of Coward, causing an awkward disconnect between the music and lyrics. In this format, songs such as Peanut Girl and new single Thin (which does at least showcase Coward’s impressive vocal versatility) put one in mind of an angst-ridden teenage poetry recital, with the guitarist seemingly out of step with where the emotional emphasis should lie. The setup is rendered even more baffling when Coward takes the guitar from John (who’s left impotently twiddling his thumbs at stage right) and proves perfectly capable of playing it himself on two songs in the middle of a short set that fails to make much impact.
Fittingly (if unusually for an artist in 2014), Oldham’s Kiran Leonard’s route to notoriety has travelled via the radio airwaves at least as often as it has fibre-optic broadband cables. After receiving airplay on local Manchester stations, he performed for a huge appreciative crowd at the city’s inaugural BBC 6 Music festival in March, and his latest LP Bowler Hat Soup has become a favourite of the likes of Mark Riley, Gideon Coe, and – of course – John Kennedy.
Looking a little like a pubescent Ricky Wilson and shedding an enormous pair of walking boots for the performance, 17-year-old Leonard seems shy only until he counts in the first song and transforms into a whirling dervish of electric energy that fills the room. His sound defies easy pigeon-holing, thanks largely to the experimental and versatile approach to guitar playing at its heart (though that’s not where his talent ends: he plays 22 instruments on Bowler Hat Soup, including a radiator). Whether finger-picking sweetly melancholic off-kilter phrases (as he does on Port Ainé), or forming seemingly atonal staccato power chords into driving rhythms (see Oakland Eyeball), Leonard wields his Stratocaster as if it’s sending an electric current through his body, and it makes for compulsive viewing.
The sheer size of the sonic palette with which Leonard paints (lo-fi 60s garage rock, psychedelic folk, electronica and drums so epic that they threaten to turn prog) – often all within one track – makes for an extremely entertaining live experience. This young man has the armoury required to leave fresh craters in the musical landscape, which is what these evenings are all about.
Photos: Rosie Yang and Stuart Boyland
Watch the video for Port Ainé here: