Brit Award winners and Margate do not feature too often in the same sentence but on Friday night The Ballroom at Dreamland in Margate played host to Finley Quaye, the Brit Award winner of Best Male Artist of 1998. Following on from his MOBO award in 1997 and his multi-platinum album 'Maverick A Strike', in the same year Finley was riding the wave of success and seen by many as the sound of "the future".
If twenty-odd years ago Quaye hit a high point in his career, then it's also true to say that since then there have definitely been some lows. Bankruptcy, assault charges, addiction and a spell in The Priory have all helped shape Finley Quaye's 21st century life.
Characterful as his life may have turned out to be, it doesn't detract from his music, or greatly from his undoubted charisma. Quaye's effortlessly cool persona is certainly a contributing factor to his initial success, and his laidback, easy-going manner continues to this day whilst his Jazz and Reggae fusion provides a compelling soundtrack.
Ahead of Finley Quaye, the ever-growing crowd were presented with a set from last minute stand-in Nina Harries. The 'Punk' double bassist started by explaining that she was "going to depress you for 45 minutes, and then let Finley bring you back up". Harries, the daughter of Steeleye Span bassist Tim Harries, started with a song about an ex and Shoreditch, during which two of the crowd on the side lines were asked kindly not to watch a show (loudly) on their phone, and then went on to play a lesser known "Christmas song", 'Stephen', written by her Dad. "Any spanners in tonight?" She jokingly asked. Harries played on with songs about misogyny, likening it to her relationship with her double bass, bad dates with actors and a song about Shakespeare. Her performance was heard by an attentive few close to the stage but marred by the increasing noise from the bar with Harries at one point, "getting her b***h out" as she tore into them, telling them that they could "F**k off". Nina closed with her song 'Icarus', "a song about watching someone you love fall apart in front of you". Harries set was theatrical, at times playful, and in the end very dramatic and intense as she delivered up her fired-up finale.
Nina Harries, clearly riled, packed up her bass to make way for headliner Finley Quaye. Joined on stage by Hawi Gondwe, Finley sat for a large part of the set perched on a piano stool as the pair played interwoven guitar arrangements whilst Quaye sang lead and Gondwe harmonised in support. Finley started with a track from his biggest album 'Maverick A Strike', as he and Hawi struck up 'It's Great When We're Together'. The casual, stripped back performance set the tone for the evening.
Quaye's acoustic tour was never going to be loud but his particularly soft lilt and understated delivery, coupled with the reserved volume emanating from the speakers, barely filled the room. The noise from the bar continued, at times it felt more like a football match than a gig, and at points parts of the crowd (the interested and engaged part) were pleading with others to "Shhhhh".
Despite the rather odd, and at times tense, atmosphere in The Ballroom there were some moments of pure magic. 'Even After All' suited the style of the night down to a tee. Finley's vocal didn't disappoint as the undulating rhythms played out. His spoken-word mid-song section was a treat and the seemingly simplistic paired guitars were very effective. Finley stood intermittently as he sang out 'Sweet And Loving Man' and 'Ultra Stimulation' but for the most part remined seated, although fidgeting wildly throughout, on his piano stool.
The concentration of the set was hewn from his 1997 album but he did draw on his other work to complement it, most notably on the reflective 'When I Burn Off Into The Distance' and also on the very melodic William Orbit collaboration 'Dice'. Perhaps the biggest two moments of the night though were, unsurprisingly, from his debut album. The more upbeat 'Sunday Shining' and close-out track 'Your Love Gets Sweeter' saw Finley more animated and impassioned. He said (rather dubiously) "you've been a great audience" before he and Hawi played their final track. The crowd finally all joined in, singing and clapping along before the pair departed the stage with no encore.
Finley Quaye's performance was good but not great. Some of the songs were wonderful but the sound set-up wasn't brilliant and the evening was tainted by the few who were quite frankly just disinterested or plain rude. Overall it was an odd night. Hearing Finley's best material was a treat but there was also a distinct feeling of what could have been.