Sunday evening was very strange. I got on the bus to take me to Leeds, which it did, but it also seemed to have transported me back to 1973!

As with any decade the music was, shall we say, of variable quality and this concert by Jesca Hoop reminded me that there was a school of performer who prioritised style over substance.

Before the main event we were treated to a performance by Chloe Foy, who, not only had a plaintive singing voice, but also the coolest merch table I have seen. She regaled us with several songs, some of which seemed to be in the Sixties folk vibe, in fact I wrote the words ‘Leonard Cohen’ in my notebook when the first one began. It became clear where the influence had come from as she was also a backing performer for the main act.

I found her songs to be a bit on the mournful side, but very pleasant nevertheless. She also sang one a cappella.

Now That’s What I Call Branding. Apparently made by her mum.

I am afraid that Jesca Hoop is everything I don’t like in a performer. Sorry. This time the first entry in my notebook was ‘pretentious’. She seemed to spend more time tuning her guitar between songs than actually singing them, and the accompanying chat was seemingly to show us how cool she was. It was the pseudo-intellectual drivel that was rife in the late sixties as artists who wanted to disassociate themselves from pop music tried to bluff their way into the realms of people like Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, Judy Collins and Joni Mitchell. The harder they tried, the more contrived and less cool, they became. She also had a penchant for criticising the lighting crew, who I thought did a great job, as usual. She did have the hippy uniform though, albeit the Laura Ashley/Bibi upmarket version rather than the home-made tie dye.

The music is what really counts though and, once again, it was not to my taste, being more about gimmickry than substance. I don’t mind gimmicks and experimentation but this performance lacked one vital ingredient – passion. Yes, we had the face contortions to try to convey angst and involvement, but everything seemed somehow soulless. They appeared to be going through the motions both in the songs and the banal banter. It is fine being a diva if you are Dianna Ross or Barbra Streisand but thinking that your every word is either deeply profound or hilarious when it is clearly just a few random thoughts is arrogance. There were a few forced laughs from the audience but they were about as convincing as the chat.

Left to right; Kirana Peyton, Jessica Hoop and Chloe Foy

I can understand them; Jessica Hoop, Chloe Foy and the third member of the band, Kirana Peyton, being less than totally involved as the audience, although listed on Howard Assembly Room’s webpage as being ‘limited availability’ was nothing like capacity, probably due to the England v Senegal World Cup match being played at the same time as the show. Ms Hoop did make reference to the game and thanked us for coming despite the alternative attraction but seems to be totally clueless about our national sport, and those who watch it. She said ‘I hope your guy wins, but if he doesn’t don’t take it out on your partner, don’t be an abuser.’ I realise that she is originally from California so might not have been brought up with the beautiful game, but she moved to Manchester in 2008, so should know that there is more than one person in a team.

Safe to say that this was not one the best things I have ever seen at Howard Assembly Room but I think that I probably needed something like this to bring me back down to earth insofar as this wonderful venue is concerned.

For details of what is on at Howard Assembly Room please go to https://www.operanorth.co.uk/event-tag/har/

Sadly the Time Machine didn’t do a totally comprehensive job of taking me back to the decade that style forgot, as my pre-show pint of ale cost far more than 15p.

Feature image provided by Howard Assembly Room. All photographs by Stan Graham

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