Secret Sessions is a neat concept – a series of intimate gigs hosted at the Hospital Club in Covent Garden, each with a hidden lineup. You pays your money and you takes your chance on a curated selection of up-and-coming artists from all over the world, like a live shuffle button. It runs under the strapline ‘for the love of music’, and the gigs are aimed squarely at music lovers who want to discover new bands the old-fashioned way – out and about, in a live setting.
If that conjures up images of sweaty bars and sticky floors, think again – the Hospital is a private members’ club, and we sit on plush velvet sofas in the candlelit Oak Room, sipping beers that don’t leave much change out of six pounds. In the sweltering June heat, it’s a pleasant, air-conditioned haven.
First up is Kiera Court (of whom, sadly, I do not have a photo), an acoustic singer-songwriter from Essex by way of London. She has a beautiful voice, and her songs are delightful – light, breezy folk with a social-anxiety sting in the tail, underpinned by simple and effective guitar, providing a wistful base for her endearingly girl-next-doorish lyrics. Closing number Wolf features a whooping howl in the chorus which stayed stuck in my head all the way home.
What really wins us over, though, is her stage patter. The fairy-like singer disappears and is replaced by a hilarious, rather bumbling joker. ‘I’m sorry for being a pain and, like, talking in between the songs,’ she says as she finishes up. Well, we’re glad she did. It’s like watching Gabrielle Aplin as played by Milton Jones.
Ten minutes later Danny Starr takes the stage. My companions, all in their mid-twenties, note with some dismay that he’s only eighteen, which is hardly fair given the songwriting talent he displays. There’s a definite 6th-form sentimentality to his lyrics – ‘it ain’t easy loving when you’re seventeen’, he tells us in Elixir (it don’t get any easier, kiddo) – but he and his band kick out rousing rockabilly-inflected guitar pop with commendable clatter.
It’s a promising start for such a young artist, and there’s space for another Polecats out there if Starr wants to build on his twin-EP foundation. At the same time, there is a large Arctic Monkey sitting on his shoulder, which will need to be dealt with at some point if he’s to become his own artist.
Things do take a turn for the weird when Starr sends his band packing halfway through the set. Alone onstage, he describes how the political cataclysms of 2017 might eventually lead to all of humanity bagging off with robot girlfriends on Mars in 2063, because we had to make a deal with the Martians. This wisdom duly imparted, he proceeds to sing a song about it. My companions aren’t very sure what to make of this, but in the end we decide it shows amusing chutzpah and he gets an enthusiastic round of applause. One to watch.
Finally, we are introduced to Chris Reardon, a black-maned, open-shirted, desert-boot-wearing guitar slinger whose lead single ‘Bends’ sounds like it just came off a Jack Johnson album. His music is warm and summery, somewhere in between country, blues and rock, and when he hits the occasional solo, there’s more than a hint of John Mayer showing through the cracks.
We get some truly beautiful pedal steel playing from his backing band (I am a sucker for pedal steel), and the set builds steadily from Dylanesque strumming to all-out hairy blues bashing, eliciting a loud final cheer from a very laid-back crowd. The finish comes much too soon. Reardon only has one song available on Spotify at the moment, but I hope he has studio time booked for the near future. I’d stump up for an EP.
This is the kind of thing that makes London so wonderful. There is talent bursting through the cracks in the pavement. Secret Sessions is doing a fantastic job of finding the best of the new breed and putting them out there in front of us, the listening public. This is the best way to find your new favourite artist: get out to the next gig (they’re free!) and you might end up watching the next Bastille.
Secret Sessions listings can be found at https://www.musicglue.com/secretsessions/listings