Karima Francis & I Am Blackbird – Band on The Wall, Manchester – 24th March 2010

Posted on March 31, 2010

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written for High Voltage

Band on the Wall is one of Manchester’s finest venues and the music on display this evening was more than a match for the splendid setting. Karima Francis was the headline act, though a stunning performance by I Am Blackbird ensured that the audience left with a new name imprinted firmly upon their consciousness.

I Am Blackbird are a band which fuse guitar, cello, bass, trumpet, drums and vocal to outstanding effect. Probably deemed a folk/rock/blues outfit, they are so creative that such demarcations become irrelevant. Quite simply, they have superb songs and they deliver them with consummate ease.  They are comprised of 5 professional standard musicians who, not only play their instruments well, but channel those strengths into creating wonderful songs. One can only envisage a long and successful career for them.

They opened their set with ‘Mary Jane’ and ‘Setting Sun’, two remarkable tracks which mesmerise the listener and showcase the talents of one of their most potent weapons –Charlie Garson. The fear of on-stage mistakes can grip most bands pre-performance; but with a drummer of Garson’s standing the chances of any slip-ups are minimal. He safeguards the band by providing reliable timekeeping whilst at the same time offering some seriously intricate and interesting drum patterns, helping create dramatic rises and falls in the music. ‘One Good Reason’ shows Jonny Baldwin, the lead singer and guitar player, at his sparkling best, delivering an infectious chorus with an impassioned vocal delivery. Baldwin’s voice is soulful and he sings with such honesty and sincerity that it is difficult to not to believe in him instantly.

‘Last Thing on Your Mind’ is a beautifully sympathetic track about lost love, and the gorgeous backing vocals from Estelle Malm work wonderfully well and contribute to the feeling of pathos that is so radiantly delivered by Baldwin.  Just when it seems like one is coming to terms with the intricacies of the Blackbird sound, the band introduce ‘Trumpet Joe’ into the action and things take off even further. He provides dramatic riffs, reminiscent of an Ennio Morricone soundtrack, and elevates ‘They Don’t Speak For Me’ to such a high level that it becomes the stand-out track of the evening. This is a brilliantly arranged song which includes a clever time signature change. Indeed, it is intelligent ideas and arrangements such as this that set I Am Blackbird apart from many of the dull bands that seem to readily infiltrate the music stages in Manchester. A special mention should also be reserved for Ben Price, who is easily one of the best bass players around, and his bass line on ‘This Town’ lives long in the memory bank. The ease with which Price plays is quite remarkable and tonight he is back in tandem with his familiar Yamaha 5-string and playing like the wind. They closed their set with ‘3 Steps’, arguably their weakest track, but one which gets a fine reaction from the large crowd.

I Am Blackbird demonstrated tonight that they are too good not to make it big, and with their debut EP available soon there is now nothing standing in their way of success. Their biggest asset is their ability to write songs which will stand the test of time – something fairly unusual these days, and this should ensure they gather a large following in the near future.

Karima Francis was given a gift. Her voice truly is stunning and despite the plethora of high-quality female singers around today none of them can truly claim to have a better or more unique voice. She pens very honest songs making it difficult not to respect her greatly. She does, however, have a tendency to overuse her gift and perform vocal somersaults that are somewhat unnecessary. Yes, her range is astonishing and something to behold but sometimes one would prefer to hear a melody line that doesn’t quite encompass such a complex range of notes. Having said that, she is an expert performer and the way she handles her crowd is something special. For fans of her’s it must be a great feeling to have the barrier between the artist and audience almost completely removed. She conducts herself in such a manner that makes clear she is no different from her audience, this being particularly refreshing at a time so focused on celebrity culture.

Her impressive vocal technique was overtly demonstrated this evening on tracks such as ‘The Author’ and ‘Hold You’. Her cover of Kings of Leon’s ‘Use Somebody’ is excellent and she has gone some way to making the song her own.  Welcome back Karima, Manchester has missed that voice.

photography by Sam Ellis

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Posted in: Music