Review: Jo Harrop (above)/ Alex Stewart/ Alex Webb band
Pizza Express Dean Street, 1st March
A simple, catchy song can get right under the skin, if you let it. And one song by Jo Harrop, who was on with Alex Webb’s band at the Pizza Express tonight had done just that to me in advance of tonight’s gig.
It’s called “Give it Away,” and its on Jo Harrop’s Sellaband page. Harrop, from Chester-Le-Street in Co. Durham tells me she actually wrote it for her sister, who seemed to have made a disastrous habit of falling in love – all too frequently – and allowing herself to being taken unfair advantage of.
But that title has thoughts drifting to a very different place….. It’s the words Give and It and Away repeated like a mantra: they definitely lodge in the mind.
It’s a mischievous thought. A song entitled “Give it Away” is never going to be a hit with the music industry in Berners Street. Or, say, at gatherings of early-retired bankers….
But for some of us there is a temptation in a recession to just cut loose, sell, get away. Astrologists tell me we cannot escape it. They say we all feel the need for this kind of change right now. Apparently it’s all about the Uranus in Saturn retrograde…
My companion at the gig, Bob, Professor of Political Economy, and I started a rambling thought about places where this idea might have legs….like markets seemingly without a floor in prices (like toxic bank assets or indeed recorded music). You see, Bob the Professor is a bit of a recession guru, and in demand right now. All of a sudden, he tells me, everyone seems to be very keen on his R-squareds and his ISLM curves.
And talking of curves, Jo Harrop does indeed cut a very appealing figure on stage. Her first quiet numbers with Greg Soussan on understated guitar caught the audience which had packed out the club tonight deliciously off guard. She held all of us in a very pleasant state of rapt attentive silence. One thing we do want in a recession is good, affordable, accessible live music. And how lucky we are in London…
There were more catchy songs once the full band took to the stage. Rodgers and Hart’s “My Romance” was slightly too up-tempo for my liking, but it’s plausible that by 1934 when it was written people might have been impatient for romances or recessions to be over quickly.
The gig featured a number of Alex Webb’s compositions. Webb has that reliable musician’s ear for well-crafted and pleasant songs out of a number of songbooks. Like the Cole Porter songbook- which can definitely get under your skin – the Jobim songbook – Webb is a quiet star- or the seventies tapestries of James Taylor and Carole King. It was good to hear Harrop talking in gratitude about the joys of being the first person to sing Webb’s new songs. Long live creativity.
Soussan on guitar and Webb on piano were solid throughout, and never in each other’s way. And JC Caddy on drums and the ever-watchful Gary Crosby on bass both provided good, balanced, unobtrusive support.
But it was a very lively mini-set from Manchester young gun singer Alex Stewart, on his first London gig, with Webb at the piano, which brought the Dean Street audience to its loudest cheering of the night. When I hear the fateful words “young” and “talent” combined into a phrase, I normally prepare to reach for the dessert menu and the Blackberry simultaneously. And possibly also the door. But Stewart is good. I enjoyed hearing “I’m in the mood for love” for once with attack and kick rather than mawkish sentimentality. Hold that dessert. Stewart’s singing, and the one original he sang, “Goodbye” with its sinuous and original melodic line, are far more more-ish.