Eugene McGuinness 'Lion' still

Eugene Genie

Eugene McGuinness 'Lion' still
Eugene McGuinness with Fránçois & the Atlas Mountains and Trailer Trash Tracys
Camden Barfly, London
Friday February 3, 2012

First things first: the Barfly is a hellish place if you're shorter than 5'8" and prone to bouts of claustrophobia and/or ill temper. It's impossible to see anything when it's full, the sound quality is very muddy at the back of the tiny shoebox and sharp-elbowed, preening punters form a small yet unavoidable minority due to the lack of space. On the plus side, it's warm (especially so thanks to the sell-out crowd – even the headline act has to peek around the corner in order to get a look-see during proceedings), the bar prices are reasonable by London standards and tonight's programme is curated by Domino Records, so you know that their approach to HMV's 'Next Big Thing' tagline will be a serious one.

Trailer Trash Tracys are first on, and the second half (yeah, thanks a bunch, Piccadilly Line) of their set is encouraging. They trade in brooding, reverb-laden basslines and truly haunting, captivating melodies that evoke the salad days of My Bloody Valentine - an oft-made comparison for sure, but one which proves increasingly unavoidable as Susanne's seductive vocals soar above the wild guitar lines like the modern-day equivalent of a Greek siren.

Fránçois & the Atlas Mountains are one of those bands that you get the sense have great 'currency' in pub, cafe or house party discussions about music at the moment. They receive whoops from the crowd - and praise in the ladies' toilets between acts - but truth be told, they are difficult to get into live.

Their output has a faint whiff of Vampire Weekend, or second album Jack Peñate - and they are clearly accomplished musicians - but it's all a bit too safe and predictable, really. The delicacy and intricacy on record is not there for some reason this evening. The mind wanders as time passes, and one longs for them to let go and embrace their more avant-garde influences – but it only happens by the last song when the tempo steps up. They get a great reception from the crowd though, so maybe I'm missing something.

Anyway, fear not, for Eugene McGuinness is here to showcase his new songs. The slightly shy young man with the thick-set fringe has grown up into a neatly-coiffed, sharp-suited chap, and he prowls the tiny stage with a clearly increased level of self-confidence tonight. However, don't panic, because while the look and the music might be shinier and the riffs (and quiffs) bigger and more radio-friendly, McGuinness' pop sensibilities and timeless, distinctive voice remain as a reassuring constant from the days of his self-proclaimed early learnings. To adopt a clumsy, egg-based analogy, each of the six new songs he debuts tonight is smooth and certified fresh.

McGuinness' rhythm and diction is incredible, and makes a lot of the music what it is, whether it's the determined, bluesy refrain of 'Shotgun', scatterfire verses and jaunty intervals of 'Thunderbolt' or soaring chorus of comeback track 'Lion'. You know you've stumbled across someone with a truly great voice when they make singing look like the easiest thing to do in the world. His lyrical callbacks to childhood and popular culture permeate the new tracks too – nods to 'Twinkle Twinkle Little Star' in 'Bold Street' and to Alice in Wonderland in 'Moscow State Circus' are mirrored by 'Lion's reference to 'Sex on Fire' by Kings of Leon, 'Shotgun's "little boy lost" and 'Sugar Plum's observation: “# The wheels on your bus go round and round and round #”. Four members of the Metropolitan Police even pay a fleeting visit towards the end of the set, perhaps to see what all the fuss is about.

It's an all-too short set, truth be told – half a dozen songs in total and hearts sink when he leaves the stage just 25 minutes after taking it. But if McGuinness' aim was to leave us desperately craving that forthcoming second album, then he has certainly succeeded.

words: Kate Goodacre

Eugene McGuinness releases new single 'Shotgun' on March 26 through Domino Records. He supports Marina and the Diamonds and Miles Kane at various shows across the UK this winter and spring. HMV's Next Big Thing festival continues until February 12, with shows from Little Comets, Lianne La Havas, Two Wounded Birds, Emeli Sandé and more to follow.