Oak Sessions held its first night at Sin City after publicising across campus and on social networking sites. Read on to see what we made of it, plus an interview with Oak Sessions founder Francis Darracott and other members of the team.
Having been impressed by Francis Darracott’s work since I saw one of his videos for the Attic People back in 2012, I was keen to see how his project, Oak Sessions, worked in a live setting. Since I only knew 2/4 acts who had been listed to perform on the night, this was also a good chance to check out some new names in the local music scene.
Beth Angharad is first to the stage and holds the audience with clean, pure vocals, mature lyrical themes and a surprising but positive contrasting technique on the guitar. During a couple of songs she falls into melodic traps and the sound becomes a little repetitive, but she pulls out of this on the last few songs and becomes much more assertive. Her cover of “Landslide” by Stevie Nicks is sweet and simple, without unnecessary embellishments, and she finishes to a very appreciative audience.
Paddy Kelly remains a firm favourite in the local acoustic crowd yet still finds ways to improve each performance. His song “Demons”, which has received airplay on BBC Wales, is an astonishing feat of song-writing, filled with pure soul and energy. Asides from one minor trip on an intro the set is fluid and professional with room for a few jokes with the audience. A new polish on some of his older songs prove yet again that Paddy has the talent and drive to get the success he deserves.
Third act Ophelia Xerri is an emerging name on the Swansea music scene. Her performance at the live Oak Sessions is shockingly good, and during her setlist she proves herself to possess a huge wealth of talent. Although I wasn’t sure whether the band she introduces after a few songs is necessary it seems to give her confidence, and she builds a good relationship with her audience during the performance. A fantastic re-working of “No Diggity” becomes a crowd favourite. Her cover of “A Real Hero” is a coincidence since I’d heard it in the film Drive two days before and fallen in love with it. This version feels slightly messy in terms of rhythm, which in the original is very controlled, but Xerri’s vocals perform well, and overall this is an outstanding performance from an act who just seems to be getting started.
Dominic Griffin closes the night with a good, relaxed vibe. Despite audience numbers dwindling, perhaps due to Oceana being next on everybody’s list, there’s still a great energy on stage and a decent mix of covers and original songs. Griffin could potentially learn to project his voice more, as lovely-sounding as it is; it occasionally comes across as weak, threatening to be drowned out by the instruments or noisy crowd. Otherwise the performance is great: confident, original and fun. Definitely one to look out for.
Oak Sessions was founded in the summer of 2012 by Francis Darracott, 23, a former student of Photography at Swansea Met. He quit to pursue the project as it began to take off, choosing to do something he enjoyed and could earn money from as opposed to getting into debt doing a course at university. Some of the earlier bands and artists he recorded include Katy Rose, the Attic People, and Paddy Kelly.
“I don’t want to put it under my name,” he says. “I filmed Paddy Kelly and that lot and thought I’d put it under a company name. ‘Oak’ came about because… it’s a wood. And solid… This sounds ridiculous but an oak grows from a seed and it grows, you know? And that’s sort of what I’m hoping will happen with this. At the moment it pays enough that I can have a few pints and rent and stuff.”
This is just the second session (not including an “Unplugged” session at Mozarts the following Monday after this gig) put together by the Oak team, but it seems to have gone down very well indeed.
“It’s the first one we’ve done where we knew there’d be people here,” Francis tells me. “A good mate of mine, Jamie, gave me a night to host at Townhill for Swansea Met. And it was really early, we didn’t have much time to promote it. So it was an awkward night, everyone was staring. But I’m really happy with tonight. Is it going to be a good review? Bad review?”
I don’t really want to tell him before the review itself is out, but luckily Ahmed White, who works on photography for Oak and has been involved from day 1, wanders over to see what we’re talking about.
“To be fair, when I first started… that’s when it all kicked off. We work with people because we love doing it, like Ophelia, she’s great to work with,” he chips in.
“We like to get drunk,” Francis says, grinning. “A lot. But we manage the project as well. To everyone else it’s just a 30 minute gig but it’s like a family. She’s helping us get our name out there and vice versa.”
“Underground musicians who want to get their name out there,” says Ahmed. “That’s our unique selling point.”
“Gary’s wicked with what he does,” Francis adds. “Basically about a month ago I got a message from Pete who asked if I wanted to run a night here. I’ve never run a night in my life so… you know. But we’ve really tried with tonight and I think it’s gone ok.
“James Newton, he’s an advertising boss. He throws a lot of stuff out and at the time I get really pissed off because I want to do all this stuff. He does advertising at Swansea Met and he knows what’s going down. He can really say what works, what doesn’t work.”
James pops over to join in the conversation.
“I do a bit of everything,” he says when asked about his role in Oak.
He’s enthusiastic about the standard of acts that are being brought in to work with the team.
“They’re amazing. It was nice to be pleasantly surprised, like especially with Ophelia’s band, they were brilliant. It’s good to have new people but also really important to keep people who are established, who are getting more credibility.”
Francis is currently looking into the possibility of getting some bigger names to record, but is uncertain as to whether this is possible since they’re just getting started.
“We’ve talked about it but it’s like… how do you get them? Like with Ryan Keen, we knew we could get him. But it’s tough getting the time and everything. Now we’ve got better equipment we can record live and stuff, but we’re still trying to work out how to record… well.”
“Tonight went well so hopefully we’ll have some good feedback and some more gigs,” says James. “The feedback from tonight has been really good and a lot of people have said it’s nice to have something good before Oceana.”
“It’s that nice you can have more of an experience, you can appreciate the actual music,” says Ahmed.
I find myself talking to James about the logo for Oak and how that came about.
“Oak Sessions is actually my personal project at uni,” he says. “My tutors don’t like the logo though, they think I should change it because it’s acoustic music, they think I should have like… an acoustic guitar or something. But the idea behind it was that we wanted everyone to be able to draw it easily.”
Discussing the group’s plans for the future, there’s a general buzz about getting more recognition from the local area. They already have a pretty solid reputation with the music scene at Swansea University, so this seems to be a logical next step.
“It’d be nice if we could infiltrate into Swansea,” James says. “Just outside the uni to locals and stuff. But it’s tricky, I mean I think a lot of locals are put off by Sin because it’s so dominated by students. But I’m glad about how it’s going so far for now.
“Francis is so passionate about music, like… he knew instantly that Ophelia was good. He’s recorded a few songs with her just through really crap quality mics, and he’s willing to put in the work for everything. He’s the one who gets the acts and talks to people. I didn’t know what to expect from a lot of the acts but I was really blown away by it all.”
It’s fantastic to see so much passion and energy go into a new project, especially since this group are clearly intent on promoting the best of Swansea’s local music scene. Not that they need the Siren’s blessing or anything, but I have no doubt that this talented bunch of young people are going to go very far indeed. I’m looking forward to the next night at Sin already.
By Roisin O’Connor
Keep an eye on Oak Sessions via Facebook and make sure you take a look at their work on Youtube. Know a band, artist or project you think deserves recognition? Let us know, by emailing email@example.com.