… In which Sam Slattery goes to see I Am Kloot and falls in love with Jesca Hoop … (ok, Kloot are signed, so we’re cheating today) The Albert Hall, Nottingham. Monday 18th February 2013
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It’s typical. Me and my mate, Bowers, have heard of this ‘I Am Kloot’ gig going on; it’s Monday night-and we’ve had a day of ‘knocking back the sherry’, though in our own eyes at least, we’re still pretty coherent, and the workable side of drunk-having avoided a Nancy Spungen look-a-like, in a previous pub, leathered out of her tits, and trying to attach herself to us, like some unpredictably drunken limpet looking for the hull of a ship.

Having made a swift getaway through a toilet window (don’t ask), we’re now looking for Nottingham’s Albert Hall, jokingly consoling ourselves with the fact that this will probably end with us really hammered, and watching some covers band, in a dive bar, where they don’t sell Amaretto, like it sometimes does when me and Bowers get together to check out a gig we can’t locate.

Tonight we’re in luck! In the nick of time, we come across the desired location. Tickets are twenty one quid on the door and the venue is a spacious, Victorian looking building (not the sardine can, sticky floor, black walled subterranean tomb, I have come to see as de rigeur, when seeing most bands, across my gig going career, thus far).

I must confess that I know absolutely nothing about ‘I Am Kloot’ at this stage in proceedings; I’ve heard of them, but they’ve always remained below my radar for one reason or another. Bowers, being the musical connoisseur that he is, heard them on the radio years ago- and wouldn’t mind seeing ‘em! And neither would I, as there is something quite magical about checking out something you haven’t heard before-and Bowers rabbits on about them being produced by Elbow’s Guy Garvey-which is certainly good enough for me!

Before any music starts it becomes apparent that these guys have a loyal fan base – a contingent of ladies and gentleman (who are not exactly in their first flushes of youth for the large part). Accents can be can be heard from Manchester, the bands home town, who all give the Kloot a rapturous round of applause when, amidst an almost comical barrage of dry ice, they ascend the stage to a classical fanfare blasting out of the P.A.

Bowers and I look at each other with raised eyebrows heavy with anticipation and, from the veils of dry ice, the lead singer raises a respectable looking glass, filled to the brim with the dark elixir of Guinness, before giving a warm, hearty greeting to us, and launching straight in to the first song.

I Am Kloot have been going for thirteen years or so now and vocalist/guitarist John Bramwell has had a checkered musical career which began in the early eighties, and has seen him release a record (You, Me and The Alarm Clock), as Johnny Dangerously, in 1989, which was sited, by The Guardian, as ‘the best album you have never heard’.

Traditionally a three piece, made up of Bramwell (vocals/guitar) Peter Jobson (bass) and Andy Hargreaves (drums/percussion) who have swelled to a six piece, for these tour with additional trumpets, electric guitar, various horns, keys and accordion, provided by musician friends. As the set unfolds, it is clear that they make an accessible, well crafted, considered, poppy sound for the everyman, encompassing a subtle blend of styles and sounds with songs being an often earthy amalgamation of blues, country, folk and light rock, and lyrics that (seemingly) tell tired, semi drunken tales of disappointment, daydreams-and looking for a better future, whilst trying to appreciate the now.

Bramwell has a warm, world weathered, gentle voice that reminds me of something after the vocals of the late John Denver, Gerry Marsden, from The Pacemakers, and John Power, from Britpop band, Cast-but not quite so ‘yelpy’-which suits me fine, and is a little different from anything I have heard come out of Manchester, and surrounding areas, for a while.

Midway through the set, when he does a few songs solo, joking with us that it was something that the rest of the band suggested about seven years ago when they introduced the smoking ban, I am convinced that he is the guy who sang the songs, and played guitar, on 90s kids TV animation ‘Spider’ which is about an adventurous arachnid, and his school boy chum. During this small set, graceful ladies, who must be in their fifties, sit with happy little smiles on their faces, and eyes reflectively closed, taking in the whole aural display, and men sit like small boys, during story time, with their hands clasped loosely in their laps, listening intently.

When the band return after getting their nicotine fix / going for a slash, they plough straight into ‘Radiation’ a song with an anthemic quality, not too dissimilar in sentiment, to The Who’s ‘Love Rain On Me’, which will definitely be making an appearance on my stereo – out of the whole set that they play, it is by far my favourite tune!

As the song closes, the portly man in front of me claps loudly and enthusiastically and stands up, with his mate following him bringing about a chain reaction of almost Nuremberg rally style proportions and, before long, we are all on our feet-the whole room, and joining him in a standing ovation. This band has done well, and the experience is a nice accompaniment to the whole evening, sans drunken woman – and escapes through tiny toilet windows. However, and I wince at saying this (though I doubt that ‘I Am Kloot’ are too bothered with the comments of a drunken dope – who notes the whole gig, make absolutely no coherent sense to him, when viewed in the cold light of day) for me the whole gig really belongs to support act, Jesca Hoop who, again, I am ashamed to admit – I have not heard before, though Bowers informs me that he thinks she’s sort of a bit like a cross between Feist, Lady Gaga, Little Boots and Ellie Golding.

Retrospectively, when Hoop comes on before I Am Kloot it is to a semi filled auditorium. She coos along, lovingly, to the Kate Bush intermission music, smiling, and almost whispering to us in a voice that, without being even enraptured amidst a song, is warm enough to melt Blackpool rock. In an instant I’m there, creaming me note book with all manner of nervous, indecipherable hieroglyphics, as this lone hippy – Pocahontas, carrying a plain white electric guitar, lovingly caresses the strings, plucking up a melody, and then singing, enchanted, over this. The audience is transfixed, as the song unfolds, and, for a moment, time stands still…

Then it ceases, and she thanks us, in her quiet, but assured tones and proceeds to tell us a random story, while tuning, and then lightly plucking at the guitar, giving the impression that this is a song in itself. When she has finished the audience claps. She giggles, and says that it wasn’t a song; but it doesn’t matter, because it just adds to the quality, and magic, of the performance-and from someone who claims that she isn’t very good with the whole small talk thing.

Live, her sound is minimal and intimate – at least tonight; a contrast to many of her recordings that I listen to later, which often have a fuller, sometimes semi dance feel. Here, and in front of a seated audience, it works amazingly, the cavernous hall space providing complementary resonance that adds to her performance. With a voice and song writing style, not too dissimilar, but also markedly different to the dulcet tones of artists such as Regina Spector, and Hope Sandoval (Mazzy Star), this lady oozes immeasurable talent. Lacing her slightly off kilter but immense little songs, Hoop has an epically proficient voice that makes more commercially inclined singers like Mariah Carey, look all melodrama and no knickers. At times her melody is almost American Indian chant like; at times soaring, at other times almost soulfully kitten soft – often within the the same song.

Ms Hoop has lived an interesting life; born to Mormon parents, in 1976, she sung folk songs in four part harmony from a young age, and then spent her early adult years living a nomadism, hippy like existence, in Northern California. Later Hoop was employed as a nanny, quite strangely – but also quite luckily, to the children of one Mr Tom Waits. Waits has described her music as ‘like going swimming in a lake at night’, though one doubts whether he was considering doing this in the English countryside, on a freezing cold night at the edge of winter.

Since deciding to pursue her hobby as a career, first having initial exposure around 2003, with a short demo tape of material recorded on a four track, Hoop has made three L.Ps, ‘Kismet’ (2007), ‘Hunting My Dress’ (2009), and recently released ‘The House That Jack Built’ (2012), has collaborated with Guy Garvey and, following his suggestion, relocated to England, from the New world, in 2008.

A brace of songs later and unfortunately, the set is over – which is almost gutting, because I’m in love, I tell you! This lady has stolen my heart-I’m smitten-particularly with the acoustic version of ‘The Hospital’ (a snappy little number, that has been rolling around in my head for days) – and I want her to stay with me forever, bare my children! take me by the hand-take my life!

But this really isn’t the environment to go chucking my pants at the stage, with my phone number written on the waist band, so I go and console myself by sinking another drink, conscious that it’s unlikely I’ll see, hear, or experience this siren in such close proximity again.