Alex Winston

Live: Sparkadia & Alex Winston (NME Awards Show), New Players Theatre, 21/2/11

The New Players Theatre is weird. Situated more or less directly opposite the Heaven nightclub, host to the ever-popular G-A-Y clubnights (although tonight they play host to another instalment of the NME Awards Shows, this time with Frankie & The Heartstrings), the layout of this somewhat pop-up concert venue is very much what you would imagine taking the literal meaning of the venue’s name into account – rows and rows of numbered seats, a balcony either side of the room with additional rows of seats that nobody seems to have any idea of how to access, and a big ass stage with various props and objects sparsely thrown about. Clearly not designed for gigs as such, we anxiously and somewhat hurriedly locate the aisle seats of Row G in anticipation of our performing artists acts playing tonight, whilst trying not to spill beer/soda and lime on the 4 or 5 people that squidge past us in attempt to get to their own seats.

Taking to the stage in a similar fashion to Linsday Lohan and her cheeky Father Christmas-constume-clad compadres in everyone’s favourite chick flick Mean Girls (sans Father Christmas costumes, of course), first up are Sparkadia, newly-signed to the newly-formed Gold Dust Recordings, an offshoot of the prominent showcase-style clubnight in Hoxton, where the band had played previously a few days prior to this show. It takes the all-black ensembled fivesome some time to settle in; perhaps owing to the odd surroundings they find themselves in, or perhaps in part to the fact that the theatre at this stage is a 6th full with various audience members (each of whom seems to be alligned to a media publication of some sort) sporadically positioned in not-too-close-to-other-people locations around the venue, but opening numbers Great Impression and Talking Like I’m Falling Down The Stairs fall short of the mark that we imagine the band were trying to hit. Frontman and general orchestrator behind Sparkadia, or The Spark as they were known as back in 2004, Alex Burnett does not let this slip by, indicating to the progressively growing (yet still very much seated) crowd how this performance thus far has made him feel like he was taking part in a US high school talent pageant. The turning point commences when new single Mary is subsequently rolled out in a fashion akin to The Police doing a rendition of the Scissor Sisters song of the same name all stadium rock-style.  The real highlights are, however, Fingerprint and China which sees the band instigate powerful instrumental dynamics to a reciprocating audience. It won’t be long before we see these chaps supporting Foo Fighters in their ascention to pop-rock stardom.

Our featured act tonight, Alex Winston, is somewhat aptly the one that people are keen to catch. Real fans flood in shortly before the young Detroit-native takes to the stage, complete with ethereal Florence-style black and white kimono dress, 3 female cohorts/backing singers on stage-left, and indie-boy instrumentalists on stage-right. Alex has the audience rising to their feet even before a note is played; quite literally, as she directly refuses to commence tonight’s performance with opener Last One until every member of the audience gets themselves unwedged from the now-rather-comfortable seats they have been posited in for the last hour and a half; although nobody takes to long to oblige. What’s instantly noticable about Alex is how genuinely happy she is to be here – not just in the physical sense, but in regards to this stage in her musical career – yet at the same time her manner and stage presence give off the impression that she personally connects with every individual witnessing her Marina & The Diamonds-esque display of surefire hits in the making. Choice Notes is vibrantly laid down with appropriate vigour, followed by fan favourites Locomotive and Sister Wife being belted out to rapturous applause. Having announced during her set that she had signed her long-awaited record deal in the UK earlier on today, it’s clear that Alex and her band are here for the long haul, and they’re going to enjoy every minute of it.

Words: Achal Dhillon

Pictures: Harriet Pulford

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