Denis Jones

As I stood in the shadows on the balcony of the newly renovated Band on the Wall I felt as if I was witnessing something special.

Denis Jones likes the sound of his own voice; as each lyric is looped in a tense but rhythmic circle with each loop gaining strength, picking up bass, brass, and acoustics. The execution of his live work is impressive, and his music verges on the manic on more than one occasion. However, it is quite a sight to watch him perform, the remnants of support act Nancy Elizabeth’s performance still visible when she took to stage with four members of her band, which created a united front of ethereal backing singers, a trumpeter and percussionist. Elizabeth is a beautiful performer to watch, matching a sweet but complex voice with witty northern banter between songs, which lulled the audience into a peaceful state ahead of Jones’ performance.  ‘Feat of Courage’ begins with howls of maracas and trumpet, which lends Elizabeth’s music a cinematic quality not too dissimilar to the Tindersticks; but with less of a powerful punch than a gentle meander to the end. Elizabeth’s music has a melancholic feel to it and as she ends with a harp-infused song that is delicate and subtle; reminiscent of Beth Orton if she had lived in Yorkshire.

If one performer soothed the crowd, the other enveloped the room in layer upon layer of technical tension. As Jones performs his one man show he initially seems strangely isolated amongst the redundant instruments surrounding him. The focus is firstly on him, and then on the room shattering noises he creates. The repetitive loops are both interesting and unsettling as it can sometimes sound like his voice is in conflict and arguing with himself, which only adds to a feeling of uneasiness.  However, tension soon turns to admiration as everyone’s eyes seem focused on Jones’ electronic performance. ‘Clap Hands’ is executed here in a slower but no less orchestrated approach and showcases Jones’ great voice which is his most powerful instrument, essential in holding all of the contrasting sounds together.

It is quite a feat for a performer to almost expand or contract a note, a sound or lyric at will to emphasise a point; and Jones’ voice lingers in the air long after the song has finished. In more stripped down songs such as ‘Beginning’ Jones’ commanding but intricate voice really comes across and behind the electronic trickery and dexterity of his technical application he has a gentle and evocative sound that is both comforting and unique. It also confirms that Jones is a great standalone singer/songwriter. ‘Beginning’ was a good choice to end the performance on, bringing the audience full circle from ethereal singing to being engaged in a plethora of sounds and back again to somewhere quiet and gentle. It was interesting to view these two sides of Denis Jones: the folk singer and the musical artist, sometimes fighting for centre of attention on stage but it certainly made for a memorable experience.

review for www.highvoltage.org.uk