Speaking of musicians “blowing roofs” off venues is often so utterly vapid that it pains me to even acknowledge its prevalence, yet HONNE’s tour stop on the Brighton seafront came disconcertingly close to causing severe damage. The Haunt, decked appropriately for the pre-Hallowe’en set with mock cobwebs and a ghoulish icon on its façade, is a venue so well buried at the base of the famously cosmopolitan city that it shares its address with a coach station and remains invisible to Google’s Street View mapping, hidden behind a protruding hostel corner from the south and at the end of a pedestrian alleyway from the north – one in which a charming gent on a bench offered me cocaine from a bag-for-life as I ventured for a post-interview/pre-show sandwich. With every song came larger cheers and wider smiles; with every other beat of ‘Coastal Love’ that blended with the ambience of the pier across the road came a dip in the floor under the stress of the movement.
But HONNE’s set, as demonstrated throughout the evening, need not be recalled as merely a luscious jivefest – as discussed back in July when the duo released Warm On A Cold Night, their “flowing and cohesive set of soulful electronica gleaming with romance,” the formula for university friends Andy Clutterbuck and James Hatcher is completely unambiguous: channeling their effortless charm and romantic tendencies through a blend of hopeful synth melodies and homages to gospel, jazz, and occasional balladry. Their live show, performed in front of brightly-edged outlines (that did briefly wobble steadily) of their Japanese name, adds a drummer and bassist – for live complements to Hatcher on keys and Clutterbuck on vocals and occasional guitar – and Naomi Scarlett, a backing vocalist who steps to the fore for two tracks late in the set. (The preceding show at London’s Roundhouse also featured a gospel choir and JONES, on whose debut album New Skin they produced ‘Melt’ and ‘Walk My Way’ after her feature on ‘No Place Like Home’ for their January EP Gone Are The Days: Shimokita Import.) Together, they transform the songs from their often composed recorded demeanour into something yet more spacious and enthralling.
“We just wanted to make the show come to life because we could have quite easily done the laptop thing with just me and Andy, but we wanted it to be a bit more of a show and performance,” Hatcher told me shortly before the concert, and commencing with the bold chords and vibrant skip of ‘Treat You Right’ not only had me weeping with joy but also afforded the ideal opening for Clutterbuck, whose voice resonated throughout the show with faultless pitch and a richer, more wholesome warmth than recordings permit. When necessary (‘3am,’ ‘One At A Time Please’) he lunged into a friskier, more harmonic character whilst emerging from the sassy ashes of the “go fuck yourself” nature of the preceding ‘Love The Jobs You Hate,’ which ended with a bass solo into darkness. Though tracks like ‘FHKD,’ recently revised with a countermelody from Kill J, were moderately conspicuous in their absence, the occasional anguish came with panache, slotting snugly around the ‘Good Together’-esque spurts of giddy euphoria.
Post-’Someone That Loves You,’ the obligatory clamours for “one more song” turned to “ten more songs” – with The Haunt sold out for nearly six weeks beforehand and filled even before Liv Dawson’s brief but mesmerising set commenced an hour before that of HONNE, finding anyone not wholly enamoured with the exquisite display would honestly have been beyond any investigation. The lonelier of hearts were gifted solace in the album’s dreamy title track, complete on stage with its smoothly croaked faux radio intro and sung by the impromptu choir as high fives were shared; others could not resist an early gaze, despite Clutterbuck’s soft reminder that it was a school night over Hatcher’s extended piano lullaby (à la the Late Night mix from the Gone Are The Days EP) that introduced ‘The Night.’ The cue for longing embraces came suitably with ‘Woman’ in the encore – released for free to celebrate a certain mid-February tradition, it is perhaps the soppiest of their odes to special someones. “I find it hard to say how I feel about a person, so I just write a song about it,” Clutterbuck remarked in the blushing aftermath of an “I’d turn gay for you” from the front row. With their 16-strong cocoon an idyllic antidote to the baffling realities of the colder, darker night beyond, similar sentiments lingered ringing true.