In the cosy upstairs of the Cape of Good Hope on a Thursday evening, the acoustics are surprisingly satisfying, though the music is quieter (as one might expect) for those supping their drinks right at the very back. Occupying the corner of an L-shaped room built around the bar, the stage is less a stage than a mic-stand and some very big speakers, and one-man-band Gang of One (real name Jan Jay) was at the same height as his audience.
Interacting with them easily and raising a few laughs as he charmed them between songs, he worked the crowd like a seasoned pro – as he is, a familiar face to those who were in the city in 2008/2009 as the frontman of Silvanito, who gathered national interest with their fantastically popular Silvanito Nights at the Jericho Tavern. Playing his solo material, Jan was able to build up a real rapport with his audience. With his melodic voice and incredible range, Gang of One showcased songs that pirouetted from soulful and rhythmic acoustic ballad through to his pop-rock Eurovision song (the devilishly handsome native Finn having been in the running to represent Finland a couple of years ago).
The lyrics were clever and unceasingly poetic – even in the self-deprecating, laughter-raising song ‘One-Eyed Gigolo’ – and the acoustic guitar perfectly complemented the rich tones of the vocals as it alternated from spirited and fast-paced strumming to some pretty fancy fretwork from song to song, notably the delicate finger-picking of ‘Stony Ground’, a haunting song that demonstrated the singer’s range and vocal dexterity.
A few songs in, Jan made an apology to his audience for the pieces being “sadder than normal” and attributed this to a winter spent freezing in the Finnish cold – and indeed the newer pieces seem to have been inspired by this Scandinavian tour. Mixing in comedic value even to his more sombre songs, he dedicates ‘Stony Ground’ to his “favourite Reindeer” (purportedly all he had for company), Sasha. Towards the end of the gig, Gang of One wheeled out some genuinely beautiful tracks which showed all the marks of time and dedication, with two songs about heartbreak – the rhythmic ‘Summer Rain’ and the slower, soaring ‘Thirty Blue Roses’.
Gang of One played a great gig, all in all – unfazed by the tiny technical hiccup of a spectator tripping over a wire and temporarily muting proceedings, and his velvety vocals well-loved by all in the crowd from students to pub regulars and families out with three generations in tow.