St John's College, Oxford

St John’s College Arts Week: Acoustic Night


I entered the bar at St John’s on Wednesday for the ‘Acoustic Night’ that formed part of their arts week. The bar was lively and, as it was smaller than I had anticipated, I held out hope for the ‘soothing live music’ experience they had advertised. Yet the number of amps on stage were slowly changing my expectations of the kind of atmosphere there would be.

The bar had an impressive range of artist-inspired cocktails and I was swiftly taken in and ordered a ‘Picasso’. Admittedly, this was a decision solely based on the name, and whilst it was nice, there was a kind of abstract element to the flavour combination, which I personally liked the authenticity of.

So, cocktail in hand, I prepared to listen to what I thought would be a few inoffensive but unremarkable covers, as is usually the case when you give someone an acoustic guitar. Granted, this was a slight theme throughout the evening. However, that is in no way to say that it wasn’t enjoyable.

Covers can pay homage to artists you admire in an interesting way and I think that any band’s enjoyment on stage is always going to be infectious. In fact, the act which probably judged the tone best was Ollie French with his Irish drinking song – someone that can even get the bartender to stop what he’s doing and join in is clearly doing something right.

I would just say that the amount of covers, coupled with the amplification, did not entirely create the intimate, unique gig which I think this event was aiming for originally, and could have been.

Despite this, there were two acts which reaffirmed to me why I feel so passionately about investing the time to support live music and emerging local artists.

…one of the best things about attending nights with so many acts is that you have the chance to find new dynamic music.

Firstly, Jack Segal took to the stage with only an electric guitar, using a loop pedal to create a sound that was ambient whilst retaining a rocky edge. Jack said he is still finding his sound after his band ‘Suspect Alibi’ called it a day, but added that he now sees ‘what I envisaged things to sound like coming through’.

There is something exciting about his solo guitar work that can be drowned out within the indie band and which I think will be really interesting to see develop. His sound is reminiscent of Ten Tonnes but with a more intricate focus on layering notes with the guitar, rather than the chord backing which characterise Ten Tonnes’s work.

Jack said that he is currently working on a compilation record with an independent label in Leeds; he is definitely someone worth listening to in a setting where people are a bit more attentive to the music.

The next performer was Calypso, who began with a brooding song on piano that held onto a depth which avoided the threat of cliché. She said that she writes due to the ‘cathartic element’ of music and I think that this genuine commitment to the emotion of music is very evident in both her performance and writing. She then showed an astute intelligence in judging the needs of the venue and performed a cover of Justin Bieber which was so well executed it made me question my music taste.

Calypso said her favourite venue to perform in is the Oxford Hub above Turl Street Kitchen as it is ‘intimate, sweet and unamplified so everyone is really listening really carefully’, and while she says that sometimes it’s ‘chill to be background music’, I think that the liveliness of the venue did not do her music justice.

Overall, I did enjoy the evening. In fact, one of the best things about attending nights with so many acts is that you have the chance to find new dynamic music like that being written by both Jack Segal and Calypso.

I am glad that St John’s decided to put on an event like this in their arts week, as it allows both for recognised artists to be celebrated, through covers, and for new artists to be discovered. I would just say that, if, like me, you do find someone that has real potential at this kind of lively, open-mic style event, you should then take the time to really listen to them somewhere else at a later date.


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