Bedecked with bunting and disco balls, the Nation of Shopkeepers bar is an intimate, quirky gem nestled off Park Row in Leeds. The venue walls are plastered with gig posters and event flyers, and ambient red lighting illuminates a lengthy bar, wooden floorboards and quaint leather seating booths. The room is perfectly fitted with a young, noisy crowd, along with a gaggle of talented musicians who wander to and from the bar, making the most of the casual vibe and chilled atmosphere.
The evening kicks off with local electronic musician Favela. The 3-piece outfit grace the stage with pulsing drum machines and soulful keyboard chords, their understated, keening vocals reminiscent of other Leeds-based indie bands such as Alt-J or Adult Jazz. Their set was well received by a good-natured crowd, heads swaying and feet thumping along in time to Favela’s blurry electronic crescendos, from which ‘Easy Yoke’ stands out especially.
More local talent was showcased in the form of another trio, Leeds alt-rockers Blue Laurel, who perform a passionate acoustic set. Onstage, the band members appear quite the English gentlemen, with perfectly pronounced vocals and more than one checked shirt in sight. The flute made a rare appearance, skilfully combined with guitar and drums. Their sound is intense and striking, but maybe a touch too melancholic for the crowd, who thin out a little over the course of the set. I can imagine Blue Laurel coming off better in a different venue, as the light-hearted vibe of the evening became a little oppressed by their performance.
Swaggering onstage in a baggy sweatshirt, complete with his typical snapback cap and London drawl, Only Real is in his element. He coaxes the crowd forward to the front of the room before commencing his set with a funky instrumental riff. We are blasted with volume and energy as he launches into ‘Get It On’, followed by older tunes ‘Backseat Kissers’ and ‘Blood Carpet’. Only Real is not one to take himself seriously, grooving across the stage in a series of lively moves and livelier facial expressions. Despite the fairly small turnout, the four piece onstage look like they’re having a great time. Only Real proves himself a stylish performer with some excellent chat, his address to the audience both polite and funny. Hit single ‘Pass the Pain’ was particularly joyful, infused with the kind of vibrant energy that dominates all of his songs.
Latest offering ‘Yesterdays’ is played for only the second time live, treating us to more of his characteristic fast paced vocals and astute lyrics, impressively delivered with plenty of panache. The gig ended with ‘Cadillac Girl’, as Only Real played out the chorus and encouraged the audience to sing along before launching into the tune, drawling lyrics paired with downbeat guitar rhythms and a too-cool-for-school attitude to match.
Maddy CrammondBy Maddy Crammond