101 Ghuznee St, Wellington
1 February 2012
English siblings Kitty, Daisy and Lewis have been performing together since they were kids, and have now built up a dedicated following with their peppy evocation of the pre-Beatles era of rock 'n roll stompers. The Kentish Town performers have released two successful albums of artfully-selected vintage covers peppered with a handful of original compositions. Last night they performed their first Wellington gig at the end of their Australasian tour, offering a capacity crowd the opportunity to sample their retro stylings and precocious skills.
The young trio are joined onstage by their parents, with dad Graeme Durham on rhythm guitar and mum Ingrid Weiss on double bass - she used to drum for post-punk pioneers The Raincoats, whose career was revitalised by Kurt Cobain's idolisation. The sound is unashamedly analogue, in line with their old-fashioned recording techniques. The siblings frequently swap musical roles between songs, with all three taking turns behind the battered snare drum and at the main vocal microphone. Lewis' guitar playing is possibly the most accomplished musical asset, and displays a rich proficiency with the classic lead guitar break, while sisters Kitty and Daisy both exhibit an zesty enthusiasm on the drums, particularly Kitty, the youngest of the three. Daisy is also a mean harmonica player, with her trademark mouth harp solos showing her staying power and commitment.
The strongest songs on offer in Kitty, Daisy and Lewis' setlist are generally the covers, but that is no great criticism of their self-penned numbers. The Durham siblings, and presumably their musical parents, have simply been steeped in jump blues, early R&B, rockabilly and country swing from an early age and have been performing the classics for years, so it's no surprise that they are expert performers of those exciting vintage numbers. And part of the charm of the source material is that it was born of hard times and people who have lived through hell. Few of the trials and tribulations of life growing up in 21st century North London could adequately prepare young performers to accurately simulate the exacting spirit of the original material that they idolise. While their own songs are successful and likeable, the quality of the covers consistently outshines them.
At the Wellington performance it was noticeable that the most appealing moment of the performance was the regular guest appearance of their veteran trumpet-playing friend, Eddie 'Tan Tan' Thornton, an 80-year-old Jamaican in a garish tracksuit who wowed the crowd with an easy stage charm and an effervescent personality. Apart from the propulsive brass punctuation Thornton lent to the performance, and which he also brought to the classic original horn section performance on the Beatles' Got To Get You Into My Life, it was also obvious that he absolutely savoured the spotlight and the appreciation of the cheerful Wellington crowd. The young Durhams, on the other hand, seemed somewhat withdrawn by comparison, and while their performances were technically accurate, they initially lacked a strong connection with the audience. No matter though: by the end of the encore Kitty, Daisy and Lewis had warmed up sufficiently and eventually sealed a satisfying Bodega gathering - with more than the usual quotient of quiffs and polka-dot dresses on display.
Video: Crazy Dancing Ethan
Earlier, Christchurch solo artist Delaney Davidson also impressed with his rough-around-the-edges stage busking as the Durhams' support act. In a recent interview Davidson described his musical style as 'folk jump noir', and onstage it bears the hallmarks of a man exploring the possibilities of a single guitar, a harmonica, a loop pedal and plenty of distortion on the vocals. He also sees himself as a amalgam of the rock and folk influences that inspire his songwriting; from the same interview:
People are looking for some authentic connection to an older style of life and a folk way of thinking. Folk music is distilling life experience, there is the jilted lover, the marriage to the wrong person, there's the true love from childhood, songs about how beautiful nature can be. Stuff that people are really searching for these days. It seems like it is going that way to folk and craft, hand-made, organic, farmers' markets, small communities, everyone is starting to see the value in that again as opposed to being centralised. People are craving that, I reckon.
He may be right, I don't know. I certainly picked up healthy references to the grit of Tom Waits and the romantic lilt and wry humour of Richard Hawley. I can certainly vouch for the appeal of his live performance, and I'd like to hear more of Delaney Davidson. All it would take is one break on Later With Jools Holland and he'll be following Kitty, Daisy and Lewis onto the international stage. Check out the ace video for I Slept Late, which is even more retro than the Durhams: