Johnny Flynn & the Sussex Wit
This week Sam Richards finds the English cousins of recent American prep stars like Vampire Weekend in the unabashed folk pop of Johnny Flynn and countrified Mules.
Until recently it's been imperative for indie rockers to play down their privileged upbringings and pretend they've been raised on council estates with grit under their fingernails. But now that the London indie scene is composed almost solely of public school kids it's become increasingly difficult to maintain that charade, so most of the new bands have given up and are playing the whimsical bookish eccentric card instead. Which is probably for the best. I am currently trying to coin the term 'prep rock' to describe Jack Penate, The Maccabees, Bobby Cook, Joe Lean & The Jing Jang Jong et al.
Johnny Flynn doesn't try to conceal a CV that includes a choral scholarship to a leading public school and an acting career that has seen him perform in 'The Taming Of The Shrew' at the Old Vic, becoming a regular 'drinking buddy' of Kevin Spacey who caused plenty of double-takes when he turned up to watch Johnny at Blue Flowers. But Mr Flynn has also done time on the New York antifolk scene and unlike fellow indie-thesp Joe Lean he's a modest, almost apologetic performer, albeit one smouldering with intensity when he sings.
His country-folk schtick, accompanied by his ramshackle band The Sussex Wit, is disarmingly rustic – think The Carter Family and Bert Jansch – almost as if he's deliberately excised anything that might suggest a knowledge of post-electric rock from his music. Hearing him sing "Can you spare a dime for a bacon rind or a slice of the old sardine" is pretty odd coming from the mouth of a cherubic Home Counties boy who's probably never eaten anything but the finest gammon steak. But if you subscribe to the Gram Parsons school of thought that it takes an obsessive fan from a different background to reinvigorate those old folk tropes and by removing them completely from their original context, then you'll appreciate what Johnny's up to here. In fact, to keep it simple: if you like Gram, you'll like Johnny.
I saw Johnny supporting the Mules, who were in the midst of an eight-week residency at The Big Chill House, playing every Monday. Lead by incredible singing drummer Ed Seed (who warns we should never rely on Co-Op hair gel after his quiff collapses in the heat), their angular folk-punk hoedowns recalls The Pogues, Gallon Drunk, Sparks and Art Brut, sometimes together in an all-too-messy bar brawl. Their cover of Television's 'See No Evil' is amazing, though. And while their records would probably be fairly irritating to listen to at home, they'd make a great house band for a late night chat show where all the guests got sloshed on gin.