Johnny Flynn & The Sussex Wit are not particularly slick, but then again, I don’t think they intend to be. Johnny tunes up on arrival onstage and after almost every track; he plays the occasional dumb note, and his accordion playing ‘Sussex Wit’ sister Lillie loudly asks “Joe” to “turn down the cello”, rather than doing the pointing down routine usually favoured for communication onstage. This, along with the straw blonde hair of the frontman and the amount of enthusiastic arm and hip movement coming from the audience, all gives off something of the village hall/local pub/dress rehearsal feel. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s neither professional nor dynamic. From the folk band’s opening with ‘The Ghost Of Donahue’, to the awkward encore finish of ‘Eyeless in Holloway’, am I remotely spell bound or in any way captivated by the performance? Nope. Does that matter? To me, yes, but to the hysterical middle aged women beside me (two of many) wailing in approval, absolutely not.
Of course, if you put all that aside, it’s rather a nice show. The folky tracks are feel good and Flynn’s voice is powerful. He proves his talent at multiple levels, not only as a singer, but as he swaps from electric guitar to a trumpet for a chorus riff on the blues infused ‘Howl’. In ‘Barnacled Warship’ he moves effortlessly between violin and vocals. Despite being only around two thirds full, the Lille Vega audience are loud and enthusiastic. The hand clapping is a near constant, giving the gig a cosy, positive vibe.
But after a while, it all gets rather tedious. Flynn’s tracks are repetitive, and there’s nothing that deviates from the typical folk pop formula. There is no experimentation or interesting solo, the melodies all sound the same, and after not too long, I’m seriously struggling to determine one song from the next. The copy cat nature makes them all turn into one long blur of vocals, drum and cello. It’s a 90 minute set with a three track encore, and I’m really starting to fidget after an hour. A spirit deficient gig might work at the pub, but for a group that’s been recording and performing music since 2007, the Johnny Flynn and the Sussex Wit show is seriously lacking in spark. It is, with the best intention, ‘nice’ (boring might be a bit harsh). But then who am I to judge? Looks like the howling female fans are two steps away from taking off their knickers.