Neon Villages supporting Marcus Miller on his Afrodeezia tour
Neon Villages are a vibrant and versatile group made of some exceptional UK based musicians.
The band features Aisling Iris (vocals), David Austin Grey (keyboards/electronics), Wayne Matthews (fretless bass) and Euan Palmer (drums).
Having performed earlier in 2015 at Cheltenham Jazz Festival, Neon Villages embarked on a mini-tour of the UK, taking their infectious neo-soul infused sound to the likes of St. Ives Jazz Club, The Lescar in Sheffield, Swansea Jazzland, The Bramall Music Building in Birmingham and London’s Mau Mau Bar. In 2015 the band was approached to support the legendary GRAMMY award-winning bass guru, Marcus Miller – for the culmination of his UK tour, at Birmingham Town Hall
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Earlier the Town Hall crowd had been well entertained by Neon Villages, the new project led by Birmingham based pianist, keyboard player and composer David Austin Grey. Austin Grey is a highly talented musician and composer who is involved with many other projects including Greyish Quartet and the band Hansu Tori who released the excellent album “An Improvised Escape” in 2014.
Like Miller Austin Grey is a musician who takes a flexible approach towards musical categorisation. The music of Neon Villages incorporates jazz and soul influences and is song based with the band fronted by vocalist Aisling Iris Stephenson and also featuring the fretless bass guitar of Wayne Matthews plus Euan Palmer at the drums. The band have recently released their debut EP which Austin Grey informed us was now available via Bandcamp.
Most of tonight’s songs were sourced from the EP beginning with “Sapphire - Blue Sun” which featured Aisling’s soul vocals alongside instrumental solos from Austin Grey on keys (he played a Nord keyboard plus an additional synthesiser throughout) and Matthews on bass. Although all the material was essentially song based there was still plenty of room for the instrumentalists to stretch out and improvise during their solos.
Neon Villages is a democratic band with other group members becoming involved in the writing process. Aisling’s song “Something” featured her powerful, soulful vocals and was followed by Matthews’ “Celtic Folk Funk” which appropriately incorporated a variety of musical styles and featured Stephenson’s wordless vocalising.
Austin Grey’s tune “A Place Where Love Will Follow” placed the emphasis on his own keyboards with its droning synthesiser intro and later electric piano solo.
Their short support set finished with a re-harmonised arrangement of the jazz standard “When I Fall In Love” which saw the band taking liberties with the time signature and vocal phrasing but without ever sacrificing anything of Stephenson’s innate soulfulness. Along the way the singer enjoyed a scat vocal feature that compared well with the instrumental solos by Austin Grey and Matthews. Towards the end of the tune she even had the audience clapping along to an improvised vocal section that name-checked her band mates plus Marcus Miller.
This short set by Neon Villages was very well received by a supportive home town crowd and this was clearly a very important gig for the band with Austin Grey thanking Jazzlines, Town Hall/Symphony Hall, the Serious organisation and even Marcus Miller himself for allowing them to open this show for a such a prestigious artist at such a major venue. Neon Villages acquitted themselves well. It will be interesting to see how they progress from here.