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Andrew Ashong @ Oslo Hackney, 14th February

Any gig taking place on Valentine’s Day brings with it certain expectations. Tickets are booked for a significant other for a romantic night out, a foray away from the traditional wine and dine experience toward something a bit different. So perhaps it was not the best decision for Andrew Ashong to declare himself “anti-Valentines” before launching into his set. However, you might say this helped make the singletons in the audience feel more comfortable and, as Ashong’s voice floated out over the hum of acoustic guitars, the significance of the date was forgotten and the music took centre stage.

Although best known for a brand of soul that takes its productions cues from electronic music, much of Ashong’s set list was chilled out, smooth and stripped back. Taking us through a tour of his back catalogue, Ashong guided us as he swerved from the hazily ethereal ‘Special’ to melodies that relied on the nuances of sultry jazz and psych-soul. The effect of this was to fill the room with a spaced-out ambience, interspersed with Ashong’s witty audience repartee.

The danger with a gig like this, especially one that clocked in at over an hour and a half, is of sending the audience to sleep. Thankfully towards the end of the gig Ashong’s musical vocabulary expanded from silky and subdued to a sound that sizzled with inflections of soul and funk. This crowd-pleasing move was hampered, perhaps unwittingly, by his decision to sit down during some of the more energetic moments of his set.

Even so, as the gig went past its 22:30 curfew, there was not much that could be done to dampen the jubilant mood. Aside from Ashong’s own material, other highlights came at the point when his band showcased their impressive talent through their solos. It was at this point that Valentines Day reared its head, with Ashong’s girlfriend invited up on the stage. In the end, this added to the joyful and celebratory mood as the audience danced to the music until closing time.

By Tom Matsuda, BA International Relations and Japanese

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