Concert Conversations: The Canaries Play the Islington, London

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Concert Conversations is our new column where we provide a first-person narrative of the concertgoer’s experience as an alternative form of music review.

August 5th, 2014 – A balmy London evening. Once again, I’ve been misguided about wearing trousers instead of shorts and keeping temperature-controlled can only be achieved by certain cold refreshments… And on a school night, too. Tut.

Hovering around the commercial thoroughfare of Upper Street, with its Mexican/Turkish/Italian/’trendy-burger’ restaurants flanking me, I concede to the notion that I’ll be attending this gig alone tonight. Originally proposed by my girlfriend and my housemate as a group activity, the affair was dashed by a coincidentally draining day for them both. Two consecutive phone-cancellations: bang and bang. It happens to all of us at some point, right? For some, this would be a deal-breaker and homeward bound they would be. I just can’t do that though… Besides, I’d hung around after work for this, was two minutes’ walk from the venue, and towel-throwing just ain’t my thing.

I subsequently navigated my way to The Islington, a bar-eatery conveniently named after the borough in which it resides and located across from a supermarket car park. It’s not terribly glamorous but in this town, take a decrepit old-man pub, slap on a new paint job and toss a couple of pot-plants out the front and it’s practically Barbados to some. Five pounds’ entry and I am informed I can have a free shot on the bar. Evidently the choice consists of nothing but straight, original Sambuca – perhaps due to unpopularity, at least certainly with me (bad teen flashbacks). Despite this, I had it anyway; free things in London cannot be overlooked.

Listen: “Everybody Loves My Baby” – The Canaries

The rancid taste of aniseed compromised the lager chaser I’d hoped to diffuse it with whilst I watched support act Joe Moody in the not overpopulated but still uncomfortably warm venue. Slim and bespectacled in hipster-thick round frames, he sang a soft folk in a style more befitting for James Blunt than Bert Jansch fans, although I will credit him with his traditional English-folk execution of a country tune titled, “Tennessee”. His gentle method made it memorable for me. If only he’d mentioned who originated it – he’ll have to reap the glory for now. As Moody finished with a break-up anniversary tune (requesting hand-clap participation) and an obliquely chosen folk version of “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air” theme, that glory swiftly dissolved. Then came the main attraction.

Headliners The Canaries are a London seven-piece who unabashedly want you to enjoy the sounds of the 1930s and the Andrews Sisters, just the way you’d want to enjoy them. They consist of three sweet-smiling dames swaying in unison, backed by a neatly-attired set of lads looking like band-camp Ken dolls. All have nailed their roles in providing guitar, upright bass, trumpet mutes and woodwinds, leaning comfortably toward the swing side of the golden era. However, it’s Agne, Hattie and Laura-Jayne who ultimately win you over with their pretty matching outfits and voices. Renditions of “Everybody Loves My Baby,” a slow-paced “It Don’t Mean a Thing” and the Dinning Sisters’ “Ghost of a Chance” (itself a cover of Bing Crosby) gave them the opportunity to display tri-harmonies, scale-gliding and clever scat vocals.

Throughout the half-hour performance, each Canary engaged the audience individually with a rehearsed step toward the microphone for solos and introductions, giving out appreciable nuances of character. Guitarist Tom Varrall’s Django-esque solo for “The Man From Georgia” appeared to not be to his taste, blurting out ‘urgh’ a couple of times as if he took the interlude to the wrong places. It sounded great to us, but it served as his inadvertent moment to entertain both the crowd and the band with more than his musical skills.

Concluding with Charley Pride’s “Roll on Mississippi,” The Canaries lent a soothing, lazy river vibe to the room. Theirs was a vintage set compared to other 30s-era big band and boogie-woogie revival acts. I suspect this may have been decided purposefully, as by now the band room of the Islington was sweltering. The music was a wise choice and made a great first impression of a group who could take their identifiably classy style all the way to the troops themselves.

The Canaries

The Canaries want you to enjoy the sounds of the 1930s just the way you’d want to enjoy them.

Listen: “Everybody Loves My Baby” – The Canaries

Retreating into the comparably refreshing night air, I felt I had achieved something by sticking to my guns and checking out this gig sans-entourage. Hell, I prefer going to the movies by myself. Aside from that, this was a local group I’d gladly see again with the others, preferably in a roomier speakeasy or large garden estate with a mint julep in hand. For that imagery alone, The Canaries earn a 7.5 out of 10.

The Canaries recently released a new music video for the song “Do You Love Me?”

Watch “Do You Love Me?” here:

Learn more about The Canaries online at thecanariesmusic.co.uk

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The Breakdown