George O’Brien has a touch of Will Young about him according to one of the audience at the Vane Tempest Sessions. If they mean the Home Counties-twang he sometimes makes when hitting high notes then yes, we can hear it. That’s not the sound of Will Young, though, it’s Daniel Merriweather-esque at best, unless Will Young has become startlingly good at making melancholy and jingly chord patterns gel underneath an otherworldly vocal of late then I think we win… I digress, a student and a regular on the Durham scene, O’Brien proved an able and appropriate support for Sam Brookes, a performer with more folksy credentials than you can shake a bell-covered stick at.
Also playing in the romantic and intimate surroundings of the Vane Tempest was Anna Costello. She may share a surname with Elvis but Ms Costello is Durham’s answer to KT Tunstall. Her self-professed tendency to make everything sound depressing (even a cover of Pokerface, the antithesis of a million Glee-style karaoke singers enjoying a parallel Saturday night) was definitely a blessing rather than a curse. Her despondent demeanour and melodic vocals lent themselves well to her electroacoustic numbers, she occasionally piped up in a cheery tone just in case we thought that she was genuinely on the edge of tears (and indeed we did).
With his checked shirt and shoulder length locks, headliner Sam Brookes had a ‘commercial rocker’ look, but a decidedly raw sound. His whistling loop on “Doors” and moving political anthem “A Roof On My Head” were the highlights of the set, with “Hold On” a more predictable but nevertheless enjoyable slice of folk. With a voice halfway between Eddie Vedder and an (extremely good) busker, Sam Brookes has the originality and potential to sell out bigger venues in the same vein as his recent tour-mate Scott Matthews. However, I’m sure we speak for all of Durham when we say that he is welcome to come back to the Vane Tempest to make it third time lucky. Overall, the perfect weekend antidote to X Factor and collapsing in Studio – cheers to the Vane Tempest boys and girls for taking us to a place “a world away from Durham”. – Hannah Davies