Gig review: Johnny Flynn, The Tabernacle, London

'It’s a polite gig of such well-bred niceness it’s enough to drive you to the nearest newsagents for a four-pack of Special Brew'

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The Independent Culture

It’s so easy to hate on the posh folkies. Mumford & Sons are now the new Coldplay (who were the new U2), the go-to musical folk-devil-cum-scapegoat of your type who thinks themselves above the common herd.

It’s tempting, then, to go against the grain and strain to enjoy Johnny Flynn, strong-jawed blonde nearly-man of the new folk scene that bred Mumford, Noah And The Whale and Laura Marling, ex-Winchester chorister and sometime thesp.

He doesn’t make it easy, though, when he will insist on doing things like shout outing from the stage to his friend Henry, who’s just got funding for a PhD. Still, let’s give Flynn his due respect: he’s spent the last two years acting on the stage, and going by this large and unreasonably reverent crowd, yelling appreciation for new songs they’ve already devoured on YouTube, his absence hasn’t gone unnoticed.

‘The Lady Is Risen’ rouses with a “whooo whooo” refrain, while 'After Elliott' seems to be a tribute to a capricious woman (bearing the unfortunate line “We shared the experience of being alive/And then we took some tea”). Another new song, possibly called ‘Stout Heart’ recounts a dream vision in which Johnny flies with the saints (“I knew them all by wing size”), while ‘Bottom Of The Sea Blues’ ends with a stomping litany of birds, bees, soil, grass, soot, embers and other such folky nouns.

In such a bare acoustic performance, just Johnny and his resonator guitar (though things are enlivened by the arrival of his sister Lily, with her close, pure harmonies a few songs in), it’s hard to judge how much he’s moved on musically. It does seem, though, that where Flynn’s contemporaries have moved beyond their early inspirations (Noah And The Whale, for example, originally close to Flynn’s sound, are now all about heartland rock and dystopian sci-fi) Flynn still smacks of the affected deadpan cutesiness of the New York anti-folk that inspired him, while striving for an equally affected English literary folkiness. It’s a fairly limiting template, confining Flynn’s songs, at least in this setting, to wistful sentiment.

Flynn, requesting one more song, instead chooses to stick to the curfew. It’s a polite ending to a polite gig of such well-bred niceness it’s enough to drive you to the nearest newsagents for a four-pack of Special Brew. We didn’t want to bring the hate. But he made us, damn it.