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Owl John, Oslo, Hackney

  • Written by  Steve Warnham

Owl John stuns a packed crowd of devoted fans with a career-spanning show at Oslo in Hackney.

Following a busy schedule which included a tour of California and the release of debut self-titled album, Scott Hutchison of Frightened Rabbit is relaxed as he enters the stage. It’s immediately clear that this isn’t a usual gig, but instead Hutchison is at ease and happy to be playing solo. In a jovial mood, he chats his way through an unplanned but hit-laden set which delights the crowd from start to finish.

After kicking off with debut Owl John single ‘Hate Music’, Hutchison announces that the plan for the evening is to take joint responsibility in deciding what is played. Suggestions of songs are encouraged, and given special attention if they come with a drink. He giggles, “Of course I’ll play ‘The Wrestle’ for a whiskey.”

What follows is a run through much-loved tracks such as 'State Hospital', 'The Woodpile', 'Modern Leper' and 'Poke'.

Suddenly the queue at the bar is bigger than ever because we’re told that the price would be greater for ‘Snake’, the tongue in cheek fan favourite from Frightened Rabbit’s debut album. Notoriously hating the track, Hutchison says he’s going to have to be drunk to play it. It’s not long until his first Jägerbomb arrives from the crowd. An hour and many drinks later ‘Snake’ is played. Mission accomplished.

Playing for nearly two hours without a setlist, it’s hard to not feel stirred as the crowd shout their favourite Frightened Rabbit songs in hope. This is what musicians of Hutchison’s ilk should aspire to. The fact that his distinctively troubled voice and delicate use of a single electric guitar sound magnificent is essentially a bonus of what is a brilliantly entertaining show anyway.

The only drawback is when the familiarities between performer and audience leads to over-excitement, with some in the crowd incessantly shouting during songs. Hutchison, as cool as you like, reacts perfectly. Turning to them, he says that he originally sought to start a band for “depressed beardy guys, but then having been in the charts, it’s unavoidable that the lads come out.” He concludes, “Basically I’m telling you to shut up.” The crowd cheers then falls deadly silent as he fulfils the wish of an early Frightened Rabbit fan in playing ‘Square 9’.

Hutchison cherry-picks some Owl John tracks such as ‘A Good Reason To Grow Old’ and ‘Los Angeles Be Kind’, underlining the strength of his debut release as they fit seamlessly with his more established back catalogue.

As a venue Oslo is massively welcoming; with acoustics perfectly complimenting Hutchison’s distinct voice. The highlight of the performance is ‘Old Old Fashioned’ which is a textbook sing-along for the animated crowd, who, having acted as backing singers throughout the set, could finally take their turn in sharing lead vocals.

As Hutchison staggers off the stage (he had been convinced to play Snake after all), and the crowd disperses, there is not a person leaving who’d not felt a pang of sentiment at one of Hutchison’s beautifully morose tracks. The performance was an absolute delight, and other artists should take heed. It’s a brave move to break down that barrier at the end of the stage, especially with an album to flog, but Scott Hutchison is Owl John because he needed to go back to his roots and clear his head away from Frightened Rabbit. If he has to endure several free drinks along the way then so be it.



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