Currently spending his days at Shakespeare’s Globe as Lady Anne in Tim Carroll’s production of Richard III, tonight’s gig is providing a welcome release for Johnny Flynn, in more ways than one. “Ahh, the corset...It takes an hour and a half to put on. I wear a lot of makeup too...I don’t mind the makeup, but the corset, ooh.”
As he hasn’t had time to play for a while, Flynn tells us he’s painted his fingers with superglue, because, “I was really worried my fingers would get bruised.” The gig, on a rooftop in Dalston, is full of these tidbits about his life.
He has an actor’s confidence in addressing us as though we are all good friends, although this might also be because a large swathe of the crowd actually are Flynn’s friends. Co-stars from Richard III sit at the back, and Flynn borrowed the red crayon of a friend’s toddler to write tonight’s setlist and they wave, from their seat on the floor.
A group of his mates hold up the performance because they are still in the loos when Flynn is due to start, and he won’t go on without them. That’s not to say that Flynn hasn’t won some loyal fans. His boyish good looks (think River Phoenix at 20, all tousled blonde hair, sharp blue eyes and a strong jaw) confidence and relaxed, bohemian manner make him hard to dislike.
He fits in well at the understated open air venue. And his music isn’t bad either. He was nominated for a Mercury prize for his clever New York anti-folk scene-inspired sound, and he’s toured with Laura Marling and Mumford and Sons.
Although he forgets the lines twice and his picking - thanks to the glue-hands, is far from perfect, but no-one really minds. There are lot of soothing ballads and songs to daydream to at tonight’s gig. “Shore to Shore”, from his 2008 album A Larum, is catchy and moving, while “Tickled Pink” about “monsters in the valley, shootings in the alley” has an instantly memorable chorus: “Pray for the people inside your head/ For they won't be there when you're dead/Muffled out and pushed back down/Pushed back through the leafy ground” is morbid , is wistful, funny and profound by turns.
It’s also great to sing-along to, with the audience picking up and singing the chorus in cannon.