Constrained by my usual need to work to pay the bills, I didn’t reach Brink until half way through the set by Eleanor, so deepest apologies to the acts I didn’t manage to see. Eleanor Nellie has a strong, clear voice which contains a controlled passion. The way she delivers her lyrics shows a maturity beyond her years. Her emphatic set and soaring vocals made a great start to my evening.
The next performer, Jenni Kickhefer, whilst vocally quite different to Eleanor, also shows an amazing amount of talent for such a young performer. She entertained the growing crowd with a selection of her own compositions and covers which showed her fine and unusual vocal range. At one point she covered ‘Dreams’ by Fleetwood Mac, a demanding track by any standards, but her smoky vocals made it seem an easy choice. With a voice that came across as a mix of Stevie Nicks and Amy Winehouse, the set only got better as it progressed, as shown by the audiences’ enthusiastic reaction. The only problem was that she was quite softly spoken when speaking to the audience between songs, so I found it difficult to hear the titles of her own pieces.
The next band, Sunni and The Racket, were a four piece affair headed by another strong female vocalist. The soft, easy listening sounds were probably a little tame for my taste, but the delivery was smooth enough to do justice to the content. The band covered the old Sting track ‘An Englishman in New York’, which was as well delivered as it was received. A mixture of covers, such as ‘You Can’t Hurry Love’ interspersed with their own tracks continued the mellow but upbeat vibe, which turned out to be a real crowd pleaser.
Last Heart started off with a solo from the male vocalist, a mellow and soulful song which picked up in tempo and force as it progressed. Joined by the rest of the band, the energy in the music continued to rise. The next track calmed things down a little, introducing a funk element to the proceedings, topped off with a soulful lyrical contribution. ‘Till the Morning Has Gone’ was next, beginning with a fine vocal before the rest of the band joined in, giving a rich texture to the rest of the song, whilst ‘Two Pound Fifty’ had a good heavy vibe. The band’s mixture of funk and heavier riffs topped with the singers Indie style vocals meant the output never became mundane. Definitely a band I will be keeping an eye out for in the future.
Then we came to the headline act, The Soul Rays. With the inclusion of both keyboards and trombone, the sound was always going to be a little out of the mainstream. The fine soul and blues performed by the female vocalist topped off the polished performance given by this upbeat band. ‘Cooking the Books’ put me in mind of The Blues Brothers, a great little track which showed off all the advantages of having a solid rhythm section. The tempo dropped a little showcasing the strong, soulful lyrics and keyboards. The soul influence seemed to take over the blues element after a while, but the set was no worse for that and the vocals remained outstanding, making them a big hit with the crowd.
The evening could be counted as a real success and a valuable contribution to the festival as a whole. If the acts performing across the venues maintain this standard, Hope Fest 2014 should be very successful indeed.