Alan Pownall, Borderline, London
Friday 30 April 2010
Beautiful and expensively groomed twentysomethings arrive to cram into the Borderline doorway. They air-kiss (both sides), and spread rumours along the queue that little-known singer/songwriter Alan Pownall, has massively oversold the cosy venue by at least 80 tickets.
Pownall's brought all his friends, and there's a strange upmarket school reunion feel about the whole thing, until Will Young brushes through to the front of the stage, grinning in anticipation.
With a list of celeb mates as long as the fairy lights and strings of roses adorning the stage, Pownall's break came when pop-soul singer Adele invited him to support her last tour. Or maybe it came when he signed to major label Mercury records, with his friends Noah and the Whale. It's who you know, dahling, but in Alan's case it's also what he does that explains all the brand endorsement.
Sporting the look of a chiselled and intensely serious James Dean, Pownall takes to the stage with six band mates. On his debut album, True Love Stories (released in July), it's all too easy to dismiss Pownall's sound as imitation Jack Johnson. But as soon as he gets stuck into his best known song, "Chasing Time", he kills any comparison. Face set in a sad, stony gaze, his fragile yet powerful vocals waver as though he's on the edge of tears. What initially seemed like a pleasant song for summer becomes a charming tale of love and loss. It's hard to imagine that this 24-year-old ex-art student "fell" into music after picking up the guitar only six years ago.
"That's the biggest cheer I've ever got," says a shy Pownall, the corners of his mouth still firmly turned down. "Colourful Day" wins the crowd, echoing with a Mumford and Sons influence (they were once neighbours) and showcasing the strength of his melancholy, almost bluesy drawl. "Clara" nods to early Kinks-style singalongs, but it's his beautiful cover of the Strokes' "Someday" that earns complete silence from the chattering crowd.
Ending a short 45-minute set on the undeniably catchy "A Life Worth Living", Pownall exits the stage to thunderous applause and repeated roars of "more". Disappointingly, he doesn't oblige. But with a voice, performance and look as captivating as Pownall's, the crowd are sure to get their request, and soon.
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