Richard Hawley, Alex Turner and I Blame Coco | Pop reviews

Union Chapel, London N1

"Ladies and gentlemen… Jedward!" announces Radio 1 DJ Jo Whiley, as candlelight flickers on the stained glass of this working church. The Little Noise Sessions – an annual fortnight of bijou band sets in aid of Mencap – has become renowned for its cameos as much as its pared-down performances. U2, Chris Martin and the Killers have all rolled up incognito in past years. But mild confusion reigns as Richard Hawley's fans file in. One listings outlet imagines American unknowns Hockey are on the bill tonight; other whispers suggest the guest is Sting, whose daughter, Coco Sumner, opens the running.

But the X Factor twins? No one believes that for a second. "Very droll," murmurs Arctic Monkey Alex Turner, who drops in along with Arctics guitarist Jamie Cook on their one night off their current UK tour. Probably the finest lyricist of his generation, Turner rarely plays solo, making this seven-song set a genuine treat. A rumple of hair offset by some sharp tailoring, he is joined by an organist for a cover of the Ink Spots's "I Don't Want To Set The World On Fire" and Dion's "Only You Know", two thoughtful oldies whose sentiments chime with the genteel warmth generated by the latter half of the bill.

Arctic Monkeys's latest album, Humbug, isn't as immediate as its predecessors, but it is no less fine. The current single, "Cornerstone", is a miniature study in longing, delivered through shut eyes and scuffed vocal chords. Turner plays two brand new songs, "Joining the Dots" and an unspecified second. This closing number – about a romantic assignation in a park – reaffirms his gift for finding beauty in the mundane.

The mundane clearly fascinates Coco Sumner, model, actress, daughter of Sting and Trudie Styler, and up'n'coming troubadour as well. Raised in boho privilege, Sumner has gravitated towards a rollicking, ramshackle look and sound that owes a bit to Peter Doherty. Backed by a four-piece, she hides behind lank hair, exposing long bare twigletty legs that end in bovver boots. Her acoustic guitar is held on by a bit of string.

Online, the works of I Blame Coco tend towards reggae-ish pop, probably reflecting the jukebox at the Sumner Tuscan holdings. It's a sound ripe for the reinterpreting, now that Lily Allen has forsaken Londoner ska-lite for something more sleek. Tonight, though, the Caribbean influences are toned right down, and Coco leads her pleasant-enough band into the middle of the road.

As it wears on, the career of Sumner fille will make a case study for those studying the effects of nature versus nurture. Coco's nicely husky voice falls easily into phrasing and intonations that millions of Police fans will instantly recognise. Still, the nascent I Blame Coco are not all derivative, and if you had to push one celebrity offspring out of the boat it would be Peaches Geldof every time.

Despite I Blame Coco's London-Kingston-Florence axis, and an appearance from Leeds songbird Corinne Bailey Rae, this is really a Sheffield love-in. When Arctic Monkeys won the Mercury Music Prize ahead of fellow Sheffield totem Richard Hawley in 2006, Turner claimed in his acceptance speech that the retro steeltown crooner had been robbed.

That clannish good feeling remains mutual. For his part, Hawley is unrecognisable from his days as Pulp's latterday guitarist. Then, he had a reputation as a very bad man. Now he sings almost exclusively about love and wields an acoustic guitar inlaid with his name in pearl. His pomaded hair and just-so drapes reinforce the fantasy of Roy Orbison reborn as a Yorkshireman. Hawley's exemplary band (double bass, drums, mandolin, lap steel and so on) wind their way elegantly around old favourites like "Born Under A Bad Sign" and recent outings from this year's Truelove's Gutter album. But the Little Noise mandate (make it special, make it cosy) manifests itself best when Alex Turner joins Hawley for a version of Arctic Monkeys's "Only Ones Who Know". "I wanted to do one of his," apologises Turner.

What he does n't say is that the Monkeys original sounds like a Hawley homage. The song ends on a great unexpected scrape of steel strings, as Sheffield a sound as these fiercely proud sons could want.


Kitty Empire

The GuardianTramp

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