I am ashamed to say that, as a self-professed music nut, I began my second year at Exeter having never visited the Cavern. I have no explanations, no justifications - it must simply have been a combination of idiotic naivety and first year chaos that drew me away, time after time, from its hallowed, low-ceilinged, musical goodness. I made a pact, therefore, that this year I’d be there as much as possible, and after looking into Kim Churchill, I had the perfect excuse.
Alice Jemima kicked the night off, with cautious, haunting tales of woeful heartbreak. Her EP, released in 2012, was titled All The Boyfriends, setting the tone for her night at Cavern. Her set had a laid-back feel, the crowd taking to the sticky, beer-soaked floors to appreciate the warm tones and comforting picking patterns of her beautiful Hofner guitar. Her cover of No Diggity left us silenced and despite her admittance of its frequent use as a basis for covers, her soft ethereal vocals added a novel beauty to the track. Digging through YouTube after the gig, I was impressed to find a filled out version of this cover, alongside a remixed edition of Alt-J’s Breezeblocks that has attracted a lot of attention. Whilst Jemima uses her own backing beats on stage, the tracks have far more body in recording, though hearing them live possessed a different kind of appeal.
After a brief interlude, Kim Churchill took to the Exeter stage for the first time, grinning as he did so. The man could not be more Australian if he tried. Oozing relaxation, Churchill’s set was a rollercoaster of foot-stomping, harmonica-thrashing, life advising, guitar-shredding excitement that transferred his own mile-wide smile straight onto the faces of his audience. From the first opening track of Single Spark I developed the gig shivers, that defining moment where you turn, grinning to your buddies, and remember everything you loved about live music (and Australians).
The evocative, reverb-laden harmonica was a crucial element of Kim’s one-man-band set-up, throwing me straight into the wilds of the Australian outback. Churchill draws inevitable likenesses to Australian greats such as John Butler and Xavier Rudd, through his multi-instrumental prowess and vigorous passion for performance. His chunky, overdriven acoustics were perfect for a hectic, empowering cover of Led Zeppelin’s Lemon Song, a definite highlight of the show, and he held the crowd enraptured as we waited for the next foot-stomping build up. His bleach blonde, mushrooming hairstyle added to the chaos, bobbing vigorously in the rhythmic frenzy, and adding again to the grin-factor of this gig.
However, Churchill also displayed his sensitive side, embodying the laid-back surfing ethos of his hometown in Merimbula, Australia. Tales were told of bizarre, spontaneous gigs on French Polynesian Islands, reflecting on his own good fortune, whilst the tracks Some Days The Rain May Fall and Window To The Sky inspired thought-provoking introversion, with delicate finger-picking and guitar-body percussion, reminiscent of the intricate techniques of Newton Faulkner and Ben Howard.
At times, it would have been beneficial to see Kim switch to a cleaner tone, as the constant stream of overdriven acoustics sometimes took away from the sensitivity of slower songs. Yet as a one-man show, the body of sound he produced was incredible. I hope to catch him again sometime soon with a full band, as the studio recording of his latest album, Silence/Win, adds an element of beauty that, on occasion, was difficult to perceive at the live show.
Despite this fact, Churchill’s live sound was perfectly suited to the final, wildly unpredictable fusion of his own track, a crowd favourite titled The Early, and a segment of Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues. As an encore, I take back what I said about the guitar tone – it was perfect for this final frenzy, and I left with a long to-do list. Among the list was a need to up the number of surf trips I go on this year, conquer my serious arachnophobia, and earn a lot of money for a necessary trip to Australia/complete lifestyle overhaul.