Gig Review and Photography by John Bentley

Kiran Leonard, The Hare and Hounds, Birmingham 16-7-14

We have an eclectic three act bill at The Hare & Hounds tonight, headlined by the remarkable new talent that is Kiran Leonard.

Tom Peel, The Hare and Hounds, Birmingham 16-7-14

Opener Tom Peel takes the stage, guitar in hand. With his rimmed glasses he looks a little like a young Woody Allen. Oh, no! Not another meaningful singer songwriter to get through before the main act. Fortunately, Tom turns out to be a lot more. After a few quirky songs in conventional ‘guitar mode’ (like ‘Laura, Half French’, from his latest eponymously titled album), the act gets weird. There he is, mad-dancing like an embarrassing dad, to madcap songs like ‘When I Die’, with musical accompaniment provided by a large old fashioned reel-to-reel tape recorder slung awkwardly around his neck. Finally he swaps the tape recorder for an even larger TV (playing a VHS tape), which he just about manages to strap-on and stay upright. This has the benefit of providing both sound and vision accompaniment, while he sings. Crazy man, but the world needs more like him and his brand of folktronica.

The Shalfonts, The Hare and Hounds, Birmingham 16-7-14

The Shalfonts hail from the Birmingham area, but also have a Norway connection. They are the project of vocalist Bryn Bowen and guitarist Ralph Morton. It appears they started as a ‘virtual band’, putting together stuff over the internet, but they are now a fully fledged touring outfit. The songs are mostly very short and many are almost spoken or recited over the backing music. I’ve seen their style described in a review as freak-folk, like early Sebadoh, but the Sebs were fairly shambolic (in an inspired way) and The Shalfonts are more ordered and sombre. Leadman Bowen has an enigmatic stage presence and commands attention, making good use of facial expression and his staring eyes. He can go from calmness to mania in a matter of seconds. The Shalfonts new album, ‘Grant Mansions’, is available now.

Kiran Leonard, The Hare and Hounds, Birmingham 16-7-14

I came to Kiran Leonard via hearing him on Marc Riley’s excellent Radio 6 programme. It’s always good to catch new talent when it’s fresh and before it becomes famous. I wish I had a better track record in this respect, because the only famous band I’ve genuinely managed to catch in its true infancy (nappy stage) was the Human League. And that was a long time ago.

Kiran Leonard, The Hare and Hounds, Birmingham 16-7-14

Leonard is a bit of a boy wonder. From Oldham and only 18, he’s a multi-instrumentalist who’s already recorded a load of music and has plenty of ideas. Categorising his music is tricky because it seems to borrow bits from all over the shop. The music can be dramatic balladry, with strings, or full on rock – both of the rawer kind or with prog-ish tendencies.

Kiran Leonard, The Hare and Hounds, Birmingham 16-7-14

Hearing the sophisticated arrangements on his acclaimed ‘Bowler Hat Soup’ album (including use of banjo), you can see he’s taken on board some Sufjan Stevens. And his voice sounds a little ‘Wainwrighty’ – sometimes like Rufus Wainwright on slower, emotional songs, but also like Rufus’s dad, Loudon, on hollering songs like the magnificent ‘Geraldo’s Farm’. He also reminds me a little of early Jeff Buckley and his ‘Live at Sin-E’ EP. Anyway, he’s obviously been listening to and taking on board a wide range of music.

Kiran Leonard, The Hare and Hounds, Birmingham 16-7-14

Leonard unassumingly comes on with his band and spends a while sorting out the gear on the small Hare & Hounds stage, without anyone really noticing. He sits with a bottle of water for a while, as if meditating before the gig. And with the energy and passion we see him put into the performance, it’s no wonder he has to build up to it.

Leonard explains that many of the songs sound different to the versions on the recent album, because the arrangements tonight are for his rock band ensemble. The live instrumentation is guitar / bass / drums, plus a bit of violin and keyboards, whereas the album features many more instruments.

Kiran Leonard, The Hare and Hounds, Birmingham 16-7-14

We are treated to easy to appreciate favourites like ‘Dear Lincoln’ and, set closer, ‘Geraldo’s Farm’, which becomes a bit of a mini-epic. There are also more complex songs like the weird ‘Oakland Highball’, which he explains involves aliens, and, a new song, ‘Don’t Make Friends With Good People’,  from his forthcoming album, ‘Grapefruit’. Kiran plays mean guitar throughout and frequently seems to be musically sparring with his drummer.

Kiran Leonard, The Hare and Hounds, Birmingham 16-7-14

Coming up to 11pm, the show comes to an end, and the band leave the stage. However, taking on board the genuinely appreciative reception of the small Hare & Hounds crowd, Leonard stays on stage and performs two songs solo. Kiran Leonard is clearly a big, but still developing talent, and we have yet to see what future musical path he will be taking. But he is one to watch.

Kiran Leonard, The Hare and Hounds, Birmingham 16-7-14

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