Review: Unfinished Drawings 10th anniversary gig, The Duchess

26 Jan 2015 @ 10.07 pm
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Unfinished Drawings plus support

The Duchess, York

Sun, Jan 25

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How do you celebrate 10 years – to the day, no less – of acoustic gigging pretty much every night of the week? If you’re Toby Burras, alias Unfinished Drawings, the answer is, inevitably, with another acoustic gig.

Since his first performance at The Vine in Leeds on January 25, 2005, (which is still apparently the worst pub he’s ever played), he has grown into one of York’s most respected and loved musicians, demonstrated tonight with the stellar cast of fellow artists celebrating Toby’s tin anniversary in the biz.

Kicking off the night were two of his young, female protegés, beginning with Caitlin Steel who performed a solid all-covers set.

Her rich, low-register voice suited the Jack Johnson and Alt-J numbers perfectly, though she seemed to almost play it safe – there were a few hints at true vocal depth and power aching to be let loose on the receptive Duchess audience.

Following her was the equally talented Cat Maud.

Natural exhuberance: Cat Maud. Photos and video: Jack Titley

Loving the gig… Beth McCarthy
Bounding onstage with a cheeky “Hello Duchess!”, her cute original songs mirrored her natural exuberance and self-assurance, especially the self-explanatory Please Leave Me Alone and another with a title containing three uses of language so filthy it couldn’t possibly be published on a website as respectable as YorkMix.

Possibly the only other artist as established on the local scene as Burras himself is Boss Caine, who took the stage next.

Daniel Lucas’ hypnotic lullabies have an enviable power to seize the attention of any room, with an earthy vocal and melancholic style not too far off a certain Mr Waits.

Each song seemed panoramic yet personal, especially the Shakespearean-scale Star Crossed Lovers, and he took up the mantle of the elder statesman of the night with a dark and engrossing elegance.

The highlight of his set and possibly the entire night was the unscheduled appearance of Hijak Oscar‘s Tim Fox, who played harmonica on an extended jam of Lucas’ epic Murder On My Mind, both musicians exuding pure coolness from each pore with the audience hanging on, transfixed, to every last note.

A masterful bit of work.

Double duos

A hard act was followed with a slight change of pace with a brace of duos, firstly Two Reasons Why.

Their self-penned stuff was excellent pop fodder with Keane-esque big choruses belted out passionately by singer Lucy Williams, for me the outstanding vocalist of the night.

Each song was seemingly more challenging than the last but still comfortably executed up to and including their final song, a cover of Neil Young’s Heart Of Gold.

The second twosome to perform was According To Eve, opening with a Bob Marley cover of surprising sensuality both in Eve Maude-Cole’s tender vocals and the world music-infused strumming of Tim Downie, a seriously impressive guitar player, using it for bass and percussion parts as well.

Their toe-tapping melodies and joyful style drew “Arriba!” calls from the – admittedly slightly inebriated – front row, while Maud-Cole’s musings on her Jedi cardigan and the quote of the night on the topic of Arms, one of their originals, “We all have arms. Well, most of us do”, endeared her to the by now slightly sparser Duchess audience.

The penultimate act was Beth McCarthy, a recognisable local face, from both her regular busking on Parliament Street and her success on The Voice UK last year.

Despite her relative fame she seemed to just love the gig more than anyone else on the bill, a great beaming smile never leaving her face.

She’s still barely creeping towards 20, which seems unbelievable given the assurance and stage presence of artists three times her age that she possesses, seemingly honed in her early career when she started performing in pubs aged just 13.

The way McCarthy managed to wring a singalong out of the previously sleepy onlookers was mightily impressive, as well as ending her pretty track Penny Drop with an impeccably crowd-pleasing medley including Here Comes The Sun, Sweet Home Alabama and, naturally, 500 Miles which gained a few raucous “da da-daa da’s” much to her amusement.

Man of the moment

Acoustic celebration: Unfinished Drawings
Then finally, Mr Burras himself arrived. A by now relatively quiet Duchess broke out into emphatic cheers as Unfinished Drawings (plus double bassist) walked on in his usual attire of beanie, hoodie and loose jeans before opening with a Chaka Khan cover, his frail but tuneful voice floating above nimble guitar work and earth-shaking bass.

Having just waved an actual hand-penned setlist in the air – a rare occurrence, apparently – and promising a mostly original set, he launched into Today featuring some immensely satisfying loop pedal work followed by an excellent stripped-back version of Rudimental’s Waiting All Night.

New composition Starlight followed (see video), six minutes of mesmerising loveliness that went down well on just its second performance, then a complete change of tack with his harmonic take on 30-year-old classic Ghostbusters.

As he continued his set long into the night, one of the city’s most amiable songsters showed exactly why he deserved such a beautifully low-key anniversary show.

His varied output yet distinct sound endeared him to me as a first time listener as well as an extremely appreciative crowd. More than just a tribute to him, the night confirmed one undoubtable truth: there are few greater pleasures than being immersed in outstanding local music.