It’s clear from the first support act, Frankie Stew & Harvey Gunn, that Normanton Street have their work cut out if they want to come out on top: Harvey’s clean and uncluttered production sounds warm and full, as Frankie calmly paces the smoke filled stage under spotlight. His songs are sincere and honest stories, shared openly, and couldn’t be further away from the braggadocio and arrogance of some hip hop styles.
Written In Waters are no less impressive. Frontwoman Beth Cannon writhes and flails hypnotically, her voice verging on the operatic. It’s easy to focus on her and imagine that she’s carrying the band, but looking past her it’s obvious she’s backed by some serious musicians. Their drummer in particular is one to watch.
But Normanton Street are fresh from touring and not to be outdone; they’re back in Brighton after a hectic schedule of over sixty-five shows this year alone in the UK and Europe. The practice shows, and they relax easily into their places onstage, unfazed by the bright lights or the wall of cameras in the front row.
Part of the band’s charm is their visual style. It’s all unexpectedly elegant: brogues, turtlenecks and jackets, a smart jazzy twist on traditional hip-hop style that, presumably, is a deliberate reflection of the band’s music.
They may look good, but they sound better. As a unit they’re very polished, but don’t neglect a bit of individual showmanship either. It’s not long before each musician on the stage has shown what they can do. The guitarist and bassist even trade instruments. Between the solos early in the set, all three fronters hit the mic, and the crowd grooves.
It’s a good turnout and the studio theatre’s full, if not rammed. The band seem happy with it, playing hard, although at first they have some trouble tempting the crowd to engage and fully let loose. Luckily that changes when they start to play their old favourites: ‘Get Money’ is huge, the guest appearance from Bobbie Johnson makes it the moment the crowd goes all in, and from here on, the floor seethes.
Normanton Street play some new material towards the end of the set: ‘Take Time’ goes down a storm before they return to familiar territory with ‘New Dawn’, which likewise makes waves through the crowd, despite some problems with feedback on stage. To the audience’s disappointment, they play no encore, but everyone leaves the Dome musically sated all the same.
Brighton Dome Studio Bar, Friday 6th November 2015
Words by Ben Noble
Photos by Mike Tudor