Review by Toni Woodward with Photography by Rob Hadley

Support for Nap Eyes comes from Haley Heynderickx fresh from her appearance on Lauren Laverne’s show earlier in the day, however, she rushes on stage, stressed as she is slightly later than advertised because she took a wrong turn at a roundabout. Quickly she takes out her guitar, plugs in and briefly chats to the audience as she tunes her guitar, explaining the reason for her lateness and the influences behind her first song.

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Untitled God Song has “mild religious connotations” and demonstrates the folk and country sensibilities which permeate her music. Haley’s vocals tread a fine line between awkwardness and delicacy particularly in her higher register; this combination is one that has the ever-growing crowd mesmerised. In addition, she utilises her guitar to the full, embracing her bluegrass roots with a slide solo that adds a surprising weight to such a fragile song.

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Each track comes with an explanation which gives you an insight into the mind of this complex young writer, whether it be a song written in an attempt to say hello to her new roommate or about getting drunk on pink wine and concerning herself with what her ancestors would think. Fish Eyes is taken from her 2016 E.P. and is about her parent’s first date where her mother ordered fish head soup and had to eat the eyeballs quickly. The beginning sees some beautiful finger-picking whilst she explores and employs words in an unusual and unique manner until there is a dramatic crescendo that sees the finger picking turn to strumming that changes the whole essence of the song as she wails over top before theatrically returning to the serenity of the start.

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Towards the end of the set, Haley presents a Jackson C. Frank cover of Blues Run The Game and it is at this point her eyes turn towards the audience and away from looking at her fretboard which increases the intimacy of the performance, possibly because she notes that cover versions calm her down. The attentive audience encourage her to play another song and one person shouts for The Bug Collector and as Haley is so taken aback that someone has made a request she happily obliges. Before she begins with some fast finger picking, Haley thanks those listening and promises to return with her band so we can experience an alternative version of her music.

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Haley Heynderickx is a name to watch if you appreciate your 60s infused folk and I am already looking forward to her return especially if she brings a trombonist, an instrument which permeates her recent album.

There is a short change over time before Nap Eyes take to the stage. I was fortunate enough to catch the Nova Scotian quartet at last year’s Moseley Folk Festival which led me to seek them out on their return to King’s Heath. They open up the set with Judgement taken from the latest album, I’m Bad Now, with their usual laid back ease and understated approach to music making.

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Lead singer and guitar player, Nigel Chapman, has an effortless quality to his voice with the addition of his meandering lyrical content you can’t help be reminded of the legendary Lou Reed, yet the musical style is more reminiscent of indie college rock band Pavement. However, Nap Eyes provide a more interesting listening experience than just another indie rock band with jangly guitars, as it is their use of minor instrumental parts that draw you into their placid yet uncomfortable world. For example, Dull Me Line, begins with a sense of musical optimism and yet is interrupted by a short distorted solo by Brad Loughead which brilliantly catches you unawares mid song and then is used again to bring the track to an abrupt end.

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The fascinating patterns are not solely restricted to the guitar, drummer Seamus Dalton is a superbly sensitive player who isn’t over indulgent in any way yet creates interesting rhythms noticeably in an older song, Stargazer, with its well-placed roll. Nap Eyes are far from being raucous and so their responses to the volume produced by Chk!Chk!Chk! in the other room is entertaining especially when the door is opened into our far more serene space, yet these onstage discussions about songs and noise emphasise the camaraderie between the musicians.

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The quirkiness and intriguing tempo changes continue throughout the set including the descriptive piece, Click Clack, with the powerful lyric “the wool that hides the wolf inside sheep’s clothing could be so soft, now she’s on the brink”. The subtlety of Josh Salter’s bass lines provide a warmth to all the songs and enhance the rhythmic arrangement of all the songs including the reiteration of the brusque conclusion to You Like To Joke Around With Me.

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A concise and well-considered set draws to a close with Delirium And Persecution Paranoia that sees Chapman finish by playing with his various pedals to create a distorted melee as the band continue the rest of the song. Unfortunately there is no consideration of an encore by Nap Eyes but a wandering figure takes to the microphone and starts singing a song regarding his age including the refrain “when my legs don’t work like they used to before”; a suitably peculiar finale to a beautifully eccentric evening.

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See the complete photoset from tonight’s gig here.

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