LIVE: Jonah Matranga / Non-Canon / Phil Steadman & The Spectacles / Arms & Hearts @ The Parish, Huddersfield

By Liam Knowles

It must be absolutely nerve-wracking to be a solo acoustic performer. No band to hide amongst, no backing track to disguise your fluffed notes. More power to anyone brave enough to get up there and do it, even more so when you’re opening for one of the most influential artists of the last three decades. Tonight’s opener Arms & Hearts is a competent enough songwriter and performer, but the Bruce Springsteen / Brian Fallon influence is a little too obvious and as such he doesn’t really stand out as an original artist. Phil Steadman, on the other hand, has the songs but also has the personality to match. His charming songs about being awkward and nerdy are swollen with humour and cheeky pop-culture references that, when combined with his self-deprecating on-stage banter, have the whole room won over by the end of his set.

Main support Non-Canon (aka Barry Dolan) has been active on the UK music scene in various guises for many years now and the experience shows in his confident and heartfelt set. Lyrically he manages to cover subjects like love, politics, being a performer and more with a wit and charm that many artists can only dream of. The track “Eponymous” is a particular highlight as it sees Barry take a stab at himself for daring to even have a go at a solo project, but the attack is unwarranted as the quality of his material more than proves that it was the right move.

Jonah Matranga is truly a one of a kind artist. His career has spanned almost thirty years and his influence is undeniable, but here, in this humble setting, you’d be forgiven for thinking you were watching one of your friends play in someone’s front room. He opens with a cover of Temptations classic “My Girl” and over the chorus the crowd is daftly encouraged to try and hit the high notes. These covers littered throughout the set prove that Jonah can turn his hand to almost anything. From a haunting mashup of two Deftones songs (‘Be Quiet & Drive’ and ‘Digital Bath’) to a cover of ‘Irreplaceable’ by Beyoncé, via Ginuwine’s stripper anthem ‘Pony’, Jonah takes what should seem like ridiculous requests from the crowd and turns them into something beautiful.

Of course, the real draw of Jonah is his own back catalogue. We’re treated to tracks from Far’s ‘Water & Solutions’ like ‘Man Overboard’ and the anthemic ‘Mother Mary’. That album turns 20 this year and the songs still sound as fresh now as they did then. ‘Lukewarm’ by New End Original and ‘Smile’ by Onelinedrawing are warmly welcomed, and even the songs by Gratitude, arguably Jonah’s least appreciated project, go down a storm. ‘This Is The Part’ and ‘Sadie’ have absolutely no trouble holding their own amongst the classics.

To see an artist of such influence in such an intimate setting was always going to be a special experience, but Jonah Matranga is something else. He’s just so charming, funny, warm and approachable that there’s really nothing you can do but stand there and take it while he tugs at every single one of your emotions. It’s a truly unique ability to be able to make you feel like you’re part of something big, but also make you feel like you’re the only person in the room. Somehow, Jonah manages it.