Live music on the small band circuit can be a real mixed bag. Many people who don’t regularly attend small gigs often get dragged by friends to see burgeoning bands in sweaty venues with expensive drinks prices and questionable sound quality, and come away from the whole experience with a profoundly negative view of the local music scene. Too often, the casual punter will have complaints along the lines of “Couldn’t hear the vocals clearly”, “It’s too loud” or even “This place is full of pretentious pricks with bad taste in fashion”. And frankly, most of the time these complaints are completely justified. Small bands notoriously fail to control their stage volume appropriately for the size of venue they’re playing, singing is often of such a poor quality that you’re better off not hearing it, and local buzzy scenes get wrapped up in such a vicious cycle of self-congratulatory cooler-than-thou circle-jerking, that they forget that the music they’re listening to stinks.
So why do enthusiasts keep on going to small gigs then? Simply put, it’s because for approximately every twenty shows that suck, you hit the jackpot once. And the jackpot, in this case, was MF Tomlinson’s uproarious yet intimate show at the Memorable Order Of Tin Hats Club in Hackney. MOTH Club packs in around 400 tops, and on this particular evening it was definitely not at capacity; but anyone who was there will remember it for a long, long time. From the second Tomlinson hit the stage, complete with psychedelic analogue CRT light show, we knew were in for something special.
The musicianship was several orders of magnitude better than almost every group I’ve seen at a comparable level. Levels were spot on, the band’s timing was immaculate, singing was superb (especially the soulful, gospel inspired backing vocals). A bedazzling array of instrumentation was on display – at one point I counted ten musicians onstage – a full brass section, a violin, piano, and synth in addition to the traditional rock four-piece. An “Autoharp” even made its appearance on sophomore single ‘Sum of Nothing,’ played by Tomlinson himself whilst he rap-sung with typical gusto. It’s a real tribute to the ambition of the group, and also the faith that Tomlinson’s collaborators have in his talent that he’s able to assemble such a spectacular cast of talented musicians in supporting roles.
It’s obvious from the singles that have been released so far, that MF Tomlinson is a project that combines a seemingly carefree, almost jocular, attitude with serious musical intelligence and socially conscious lyricism. If anything, the MOTH Club performance showcased unreleased material that outstrips the teasers he’s dangled so far. However, more so than the professionalism of Tomlinson’s outfit, and the quality of the songwriting, what really stuck with me, was the simple joy that Michael takes in the art of performance. There’s an effortlessness with which audience interaction comes to him – nothing feels forced – everything is easy. This is all despite a healthy dose of crowdsurfing, of course. Tomlinson sported a mischievous grin wider than the Cheshire Cat’s for the entire performance, and his positive energy spread like a virus throughout the crowd – who were enthralled within the first 20 seconds of the first song.
Essentially, I highly highly highly, HIGHLY recommend seeing MF Tomlinson live if you get the chance. This guy really really really, REALLY deserves to get somewhere with this wonderful project. In a world that sadly seems to be engaged in political autophagy at an ever escalating rate, MF Tomlinson offers a humorous, joyful, relevant take on popular culture and some much needed nourishment for the soul. It’s evenings like these that keep me coming back to live music.
MF Tomlinson’s latest single, ‘Nietzsche’s Day Off’ is out now – available to stream here.