Soul’s A Fire: Matt Corby the Unintended Headline Act at Communion

There is something very special about beating the rush and getting to see a phenomenal artist before they really ‘make it’. This particular artist though, Matt Corby, has actually already ‘made it’ in his homeland but as yet hasn’t been fully unleashed on the UK market where he is sure to shine and gain his greatest level of recognition to date.

Last night I experienced this sensation when I visited the Notting Hill Arts Club for a gig hosted by Communion record label where Torches were meant to be the headline act but had their limelight somewhat taken by the last-minute special guest who announced his place on the billing just three days before the gig.

Matt Corby Singer

Australia’s Matt Corby is signed to Communion and will be embarking on his first ‘proper’ tour of Europe this Autumn/Winter

Matt Corby, if you haven’t come across him yet, is an Australian ‘singer/songwriter’ who has taken a rather unusual route to the verge of stardom having begun his singing career by appearing on Australian Idol at a very tender age, where he made it all the way through to the latter stages before being eliminated at the last. Thank god he didn’t win.

If he had then who knows where or how he would have ended up but thankfully it didn’t come to that and the then 16 year old learnt the error of his ways and took off in his own direction and what a direction it has become.

If you haven’t encountered him before, then please, before listening to Corby forget about any prejudices you might have about ‘singer/songwriters’ as in this case you’re not dealing with the Jason Mraz’s and Ed Sheeran’s of this world but you are faced with a totally new dimension of this old genre.

Where Mraz and Sheeran (both of whom are artists I have seen perform live in the past) veer towards ‘crooning’ territory and sing tales about “geeks in the pink” and “lov[ing] Shrek”, Corby strikes a far darker and more menacing tone with a far more haunting and at times devastating lyrical content.

Such comments aren’t intended to belittle the likes of Sheeran who has found his own niche and his own form of diversity in teaming up with grime artists, using loop pedals and in singing songs that sound sweet in spite of their subject matters which include rape, prostitution and miscarriage, or indeed Mraz who has his own take on the genre with his at times very slick and very witty approach to songwriting.

This comment is instead designed to sub-categorize this all too wide-spanning a genre and to elevate Corby’s daring and soaring sound to it’s own very deserving perch, a perch which I believe is deserving of greater critical appreciation and recognition than the work of artists like Ed Sheeran and Jason Mraz who may well be hugely successful and may well be talented but for me can’t match up to the emphatic performances and song-writing depth of Corby.

The angst and the ferocity of Corby’s vocals set him apart from an awful lot of the music industry’s success stories within this at times rather antiquated genre and was at first-hand like nothing I have ever really known or witnessed emanating from the lungs of a ‘singer/songwriter’ before.

Sure, I had been an admirer of Matt Corby’s for quite a while having first been drawn to his sound when I first heard a live version of his most successful song to date ‘Brother’ and I had sensed the vocal range and power that he possesses, but there is nothing quite like having it performed live and within five metres of you.

After this first-hand experience and some considerable reflection I would place him somewhere between Caleb Followill (of Kings of Leon fame) and Jeff Buckley on the vocal spectrum, in that he combines Followill’s strength and grittiness with the Buckley’s delicacy, darkness, tone and control. I am far from an expert when it comes to singing and vocal control (as anyone who has heard me in full-flow will testify) but I advise you to imagine the combined vocal strengths and qualities of these two aforementioned artists and to throw in a hefty amount of soulful inspiration if you wish to gain an idea of what Matt Corby is all about.

Corby’s set at the Arts Club last consisted of  just 5 songs which were (in order); Soul’s A Fire, Made Of Stone, Runaway, Brother and Big Eyes. The set-list from his performance last night is listed below with accompanying videos from previous live performances….

1. Soul’s A Fire:

2. Made Of Stone:

3. Run Away: (The actual performance from last night’s performance in Notting Hill)

4. Brother:

5. Big Eyes:

The journey of this set started, as stated above, with a rendition of ‘Soul’s A Fire’ which is a heavily blues influenced rock track which showed off both the delicacies of Corby’s vocal range with his ability to channel the spirit of guitar-soul icons such as Jimi Hendrix. This track features on Matt’s ‘Into The Flame’ E.P and it made for an emphatic start to his set.

The second track which he performed last night was the haunting ‘Made Of Stone’ which he performs with staggering vocal control amidst the gymnastic ability required by his tonsils throughout in order to hit the extraordinary notes which he takes on whilst performing the melodic backing track on piano.

Then, sandwiched between his more familiar tracks, was a new song of Matt’s titled ‘Run Away’ which is an epic tail of heartbreak and the breakdown of a relationship consumed by selfishness and volatility. They may not on paper sound like inspired lyrics but the repetitive burst of “She doesn’t give a shit about you” strikes an agonising chord as Corby’s vocals soar into their grittiest and most heart-wrenching state.

There was no let-off either as Corby followed this tale of woe with the previously mentioned ‘Brother’ which is another heart-wrenching tale of love and mistreatment laced heavily with regret. This is arguably the song which is most indicative of any defined genre in which one could place Corby as it combines beautifully his delicate menace and his thumping and scratching roars of emotion.

To follow such agony came the sweet ‘Big Eyes’ to close the set as Corby lulled the audience into a comfortable stupor and this closing performance was an apt demonstration of Matt’s diverse songwriting abilities and of the emotions which he is capable of evoking.

I realise that this ‘review’ of sorts sounds rather more like a love letter to Matt Corby than a fair and balanced analysis but I honestly couldn’t possibly pick fault with what I saw. The performance was stunning from start to finish and I am thoroughly looking forward to seeing a full-length performance from him some time in the near future.

I implore anyone who reads this to give him a good lengthy listen and to buy tickets for his forthcoming UK tour which there is meant to be an announcement about through his website tomorrow….

I should also quickly mention Alexander Wolfe who was the other Communion signed artist I saw perform at the Arts Club last night whose performance might not have been as epic as Corby’s but was soulful and unique in it’s own right. Check him out too…

‘If I had a boat’… James Vincent McMorrow Live @ The Queen’s Hall Edinburgh

This is admittedly a rather significant break-out from my usual sporting theme but having been privileged enough to have attended Queen’s Hall in Edinburgh last night I felt compelled to share my views…

James Vincent-McMorrow (if you haven’t heard of him) is an Irish folk singer with one album to his name. This album ‘Early in the morning’ is a fantastic blend of soulful acoustic spine-tinglers and soaring guitar led folk songs, if you haven’t heard the album then I strongly recommend it! Though he has made appearances on Radio 2’s live lounge and Later with Jools Holland he is yet to have made a huge impression on Britain’s mainstream music scene, but hopefully his talent will soon reach the ears of many more people.

I was fortunate enough to stumble upon him through coincidentally synchronised recommendations from my father and a friend. When they suggested that I looked him up I was vaguely interested, but within thirty seconds of ‘If I had a Boat’ I knew they had pushed me closer to my personal musical ecstasy. I was hooked from the word go.

Having since tried my utmost to spread the word about him to like-minded lovers of modern folk and acoustic music I am proud to say that his first album has firmly cemented it’s place in the album’s I have loved most in my life. His voice, to me, is close to perfection. He has a stunning vocal range spanning from the depths of moodiness and melancholy to the high-pitched and heart-breaking peak of his falcetto. I can happily accept that he may not be to the taste of all-comers but I would find it hard to accept criticism of his voice in isolation.

All of the praise I have lavished upon him above is merely off the back of listening to his record, but now (courtesy of a birthday treat) I have seen him first hand. In the charming Queen’s Hall of Edinburgh (complete with candle-lit tables for the audience) I finally got to see James live as I had longed to do ever since my first listen of his album. I think I can say without hesitation that his concert was above and beyond anything I have had the pleasure of seeing before.

From start to finish his vocal performance was flawless and the instrumental performance of him and his brilliant band reeked of a wealth of gigging experience. He opened with the upbeat ‘Sparrow and Wolf’ and immediately had the audience well on side. The vocal harmony between him and his equally gifted band/backing singers was so tight, so clean, so polished and utterly beautiful.

Other haunting renditions of album tracks such as ‘Old Dark Machine’ (my personal favourite from the album), and ‘Follow you down to the red oak tree’ came in hot pursuit of the vibrant start to the set and begun to lull the audience into something of a trance.

Following the opening stint of him and his band in tandem came a fifteen minute interlude where James went solo. It was in this fifteen minutes that he came completely into his own. This solo part of his set was magical. Aside from his voice and his instruments there was not even the slightest hint of a noise in the room. It was like nothing I have ever experienced at a gig. The haunting ‘We Are Ghosts’ and ‘Higher Love’ were received with awe by the audience as they were suckered into his own little world.

When his band returned to his side they played ‘From the Woods” which begins as another haunting folk track before soaring to it’s climax with a cacophony of harmonious vocals accompanied by rousing play from the band. ‘If I had a boat’ was next on the setlist and it feels every bit an anthem when performed live as it builds slowly through the gears delivering it’s sweet sentiment along the way.

When the set reached the traditional ‘encore’ moment, described by Vincent McMorrow himself as being “part of the pageantry”, he was met with a wall of appreciation. Having returned to the stage on his own he told the audience that he would perform a final song and that it would be a cover. He also said that when the audience realised what the song was that they would laugh. I can’t say I heard any laughter…

The song he performed was Chris Isaak’s ‘Wicked Game’, widely regarded as one of if not the greatest ‘one-hit wonder’ of all time. The ghostly ballad in it’s original form is a heart-wrenching tale of the the power of love and the things it can drive us to do. I can honestly say that it was the most outstanding moment of any gig that I have ever been privy to. His pained performance of the song was delivered with such emotion and handled so delicately that by the end of it no one wanted him to stop.

If you are aware of his music and have had the privilege of seeing him live then I’m sure you’ll agree that you want to see him again. If you are aware of his music but haven’t seen him live then I implore you to go and see him. If you haven’t listened to his music and haven’t seen him live then get involved, you won’t regret it.