Photo of Polly Money by John Banyard.
The night started with huge funk group CHEBS taking to the stage, opening with their infectious version of the Sugarhill Gang classic Rappers Delight. Combining soulful, varied vocals and huge instrumental sounds, CHEBS marked themselves out as ones to watch from the very first song, gaining a tighter sound as they stormed through their set of soul staples, including Stevie Wonder’s Master Blaster and James Brown’s I Feel Good. With several members of the band covering vocals as well as delivering a technically strong musical performance, they showed themselves to be multitalented, as well as extremely charismatic; often engaging with the audience. Their first original song Mister Funk slotted in effortlessly with the other classic songs and highlighted the promise this talented young band have shown.
Next up was China Bowls, a three piece from Bristol who impressed with a set of polished and unexpectedly punchy songs, carefully blending delicate vocals and music that ranged from understated to explosive. Musically, the group moved through unexpected changes in intensity, ensuring that their audience were hanging on throughout their performance, with whom they also maintained a good rapport with between songs. China Bowls managed to distinguish themselves from the much-stereotyped female-led indie band through the impressively tight delivery of their set, combined with some genuinely thoughtful and emotive lyrics. The performance concluded with an energetic cover of Gnarls Barkley’s Crazy which included some stunning vocals and genuinely joyful music, a brilliant end that left the audience eager to hear more from the trio.
Then Polly Money performed the penultimate set of the evening, arriving on stage in an unassuming manner, almost unnoticed by the audience; that is, until she launched into her first song. Delivered with an unmistakable aggression but an overriding sense of playfulness, Money immediately captured the attention of the crowd with sensitive yet witty lyrics and catchy riffs carried out on both electric and acoustic guitars. Self-assured and comfortable with her audience, Money chatted freely, briefly mentioning a new EP recorded in the August, due for release early in the new year, before previewing some extremely impressive material. Her talent was clear to see, especially towards the end of her set when she revealed some intricate and skilful guitar work, made even more special when combined with her relentlessly soulful voice. With the help of the loop pedal to add another dimension to her sound, Money filled the room and truly established herself as an artist to keep an eye on in the coming years.
Exeter’s very own much-hyped Semi-Toned concluded the evening, and it was easy to see why they have become such an attraction in recent years. Expertly navigating their way through some very unexpected hits (opener Macarena being a good example), the group surprised and delighted the crowd with their intricate arrangement of complex harmonies. The musical illusion was at times so convincing that it was overshadowed by the impressive solo vocal performances such as their astounding cover of No Church In The Wild, which had the audience cheering throughout. However, it was the enthusiasm and pure energy of Semi-Toned that really fixated the crowd, combined with such a sense of togetherness that ultimately defined their performance. A great choice for the closing act of the night – Semi-Toned emphasised the feel-good atmosphere of Oxjam itself. In all its variety the charity event showcased some great talent in a relaxed, intimate environment – raising some serious money and highlighting dynamic and exciting local artists.