Dodging rain, Kings Cross commuters and a few remaining damp student demo lobbyists, I weave through the crowds onto Gray’s Inn Road and into a distinctly more intimate space, the theatre-cum-pub-cum-gig-venue, Water Rats.
Feeling pretty much like a drowned rat myself, I get a pint and scout out the joint: it has the feel of a typically crusty old London pub, the kind of place you see in American films about London. Romances between bankers and au pairs happen here. Shylock operates in one corner. Young indie bands take to the stage between Doric columns and fairy lights in the backroom.
Until the mid 90’s Water Rats was known primarily as a music hall. It’s theatrical past is evident. It also boasts impressive musical alumni: Bob Dylan played his first London gig here, as did Oasis and The Pogues. More recently Katy Perry took to the stage, prior to international nipple cream squirting, giant fruit riding and girl kissing.
A few people hover awkwardly in the half-light of the back room, nursing beers like safety blankets. Impromptu first act Chike Newman, a young graphic designer with a beautiful voice and an ability to play a guitar while using it as a percussive instrument in an incredibly soulful way, ruffles his fringe and captivates the audience.
A crowd gathers for Shannon Wardrop and her monochrome denim band. Wardrop, a highly likeable front woman, with a powerful voice reminiscent of Lissie’s, storms through a stomping rock set with a twinge of country Americana, à la Rilo Kiley. They receive massive applause and numerous woops, Wardrop grins and chats between upbeat tracks like “Treat Me Cool” and a song she introduces as, “Nameless – we’re open to suggestions.”
Headline act, Swindon four-piece Colour the Atlas, have an impressively coherent sound given their youth – all still being in their teens. Taking reference from the sounds of Bon Iver, Angus & Julia Stone (at one point covering “A Book like This”) and Fleet Foxes, lead singer/songwriter Jess Hall provides a strong voice and is a compelling front woman.
Sharing the mic with guitarist and lead writing collaborator Alex Stone, they give a beautiful rendition of “Blue Eyes,” a delicate love song that you can download from their website for free. Final song, the more electronic “Snow,” is a highlight of the live set and their recent EP.
Given their indie sound, Colour the Atlas have a surprisingly polished pop sheen to them, which speaks only of their talent to compose and perform. In April, the band toured with Newton Faulkner, so perhaps production values rubbed off. Speaking afterwards, Hall said: “It’s nice doing a small venue. When we were touring with Newton all the stages were huge! And I was like –” (makes a horrified/nervous face).
This is the first date in a week’s tour that includes Brighton and Truro. So if you’re down south, go and see them. They already have the support of BBC Radio 1, but they are a cutesy band headed for big things regardless.