Johnny Flynn - Live in Hackney Empire


Johnny Flynn was one of those guys that walked into the limelight at around the same time as Laura Marling, Mumford & Sons and Noah & The Whale. It was about 2008, people were starting to grow beards, banjos were cool and folk music was starting to mean something other than lute wielding country-inn dwelling beardies. Folk was shyly emerging as something almost ‘cool’ and there were a handful of whippersnappers that were leading the pack. Flynn was one of them, but he has always had something mysterious about him. It feels as though Johnny knows something that the rest of us are ignorant to. Maybe it comes down to the fact he is a thinker. There is an unashamed intelligence and ponderousness to his music.

Flynn had taken a stint out of music to focus on his acting. It turns out he was chuffing good at that too. I was lucky enough to see him in Jerusalem and let me tell you, he certainly knows his way around a stage floor. He has spectacularly returned to music with his latest record ‘Country Mile’ and alongside this he is playing a few shows.

I saw him in The Hackney Empire, London. I was looking forward to seeing the actor onstage, performing as himself and reciting the songs from his new record. Following the birth of his first child his songs have hit a tenderer note, and I was excited to see how this would translate to the stage.

The experience of watching him perform is a funny one. It is a bit like putting a warm blanket over yourself and being read to be a beloved, perhaps elderly, relation. I hope this is not interpreted as in any way a criticism. I cannot imagine anything more lovely or wonderful, and every part of the Flynn show that feels like this is a roaring success in my eyes. His songs are interesting and engaging. His presence is comforting and the band sounded terrific. On stage he sounds bigger and more dramatic. Like a bard he narrates, with a musical accompaniment to provide strings to the sad bits and toots for the lighter moments.

In terms of the most epic chapters, or as some people like to call them, ‘songs’, there were a few. ‘The Water’, which he performed as a duet with his sister, was wonderful. They work marvelously together and it was a touching moment. ‘Country Mile’ received a hearty cheer and saw the biggest amount of crowd involvement all night. The Wrote & The Writ is my favourite of his songs, and translated terrifically to stage. His encore, which featured ‘The Box’ was a high finale.

Like a good play we were taken on a journey – at the mercy of the narrative. Like a good play Flynn took us through contemplative moments, followed by tragedy and then lifted with humour. On the back of the idea that Flynn knows something that the rest of us are ignorant to, I was cast into thought about his performance style. “If he is such a good actor, why doesn’t he pretend to be a convivial and charming man – a confident and funny guy” I asked myself. Perhaps he is, and this simply wouldn’t be the most effective vessel for the tone he wants to set onstage.