I’d not encountered Joe Hicks before, but the Newbury-based singer-songwriter’s musical bio sounded interesting – intricate guitar work, a fusion of pop and r’n’b with gossamer melodies, a highly individual musical identity. I’d thus expected a solo artist, and was surprised to see an array of instruments on stage – including eight guitars and a keyboard.
A support act wasn’t advertised, either, but proved very welcome. South Wales singer-songwriter Leon Stanford appeared without introduction, rocking a slight Joe Cocker vibe and accompanied by Tyla Campbell (of Phil Campbell And The Bastard Sons) on acoustic guitar. Stanford’s breathy vocals are stunningly beautiful, and together the two performed an understated set of poignant songs.
After a short break, Joe Hicks and his band packed the stage, and from the first song it was evident that this was a man comfortable in his musical skin. His band, too, were well-rehearsed, though the drums were a little loud and distracting (a problem ultimately solved in the mix). Hicks’ mellow voice and melodic music could have easily lulled me into a trance-like state – but something was missing, and I couldn’t work out what. Great voice, decent songs, accomplished musicianship – then it occurred to me: they were just too darned good.
From my upstairs front seat, it felt like watching a television show, or perhaps tuning in to a John Peel session; the fact that the gallery was otherwise empty didn’t help. Hicks did occasionally connect with his audience, but it was quite a detached performance and one more suited to a larger venue. The intimate setting of Acapela lends itself more to solo artists, and the band seemed cramped and restricted on the small stage. Though the frontman played only one song as a soloist, this is where he really came into his own: the raw vulnerability that comes with playing alone was the main performance’s missing element.
The gig marked the start of Joe Hicks’ UK and European tour: the venue might have been sparsely filled, but the small audience obviously enjoyed the show, clapping and cheering until an encore came.
Joe Hicks, Acapela, Cardiff, Wed 15 Nov
words LYNDA NASH