How very apt that I must be recollecting last nights events in a coffee shop. The difference being last nights event was held in a much trendier part of town, 229 The Venue at Great Portland Street. The night began as a means to gain awareness for the Allegra Foundation after their most successful year, gaining over £310,000.00 for water aid in Tanzania, Ethiopia and Rwanda. Founder of the charity spoke of “we all love coffee and we all love music”, the night was a fusion of the two centred around an inspirational charity.

The competition gathered all kinds of musical talent through ten weeks of heats to culminate in a final showdown. The gimmick being all artists had to write and perform a song relating to coffee. All entries were judged on specific categories, lyrical content, originality and audience engagement.

Last year’s winners Murae were first to the stage, performing an original piece and their winning coffee song “Open” which they wrote for the competition last year. The male-female duo blended harmonies, similar to that of acoustic duo, The Civil Wars, complemented by subtle strings on acoustic guitar. The two engaged the audience with beautiful compositions, concluding in a perfectly executed round. The two were a great start to an evening of entertainment.

Our first contestant, Becky Arundel, was next to the mic accompanied backing singer and guitarist. Already achieving great success as an artist, Becky had previously supported Jack Garratt on his UK tour as well as gained slot at Glastonbury this year. Nerves were unsurprisingly evident, but part way through her first song she held her own, showing exactly why she deserved her spot on the stage tonight. The projection and range in her voice replicated that of an early Adele, especially with lyrics such as “you kiss me goodnight and then make love to the wall”.

Already paving a career as a songwriter, July Jones was next to the stage. Unassuming was her small frame as she belted out the beginning line of her first song demanding the full attention from the room. Although having great vocal range, she clearly favoured the high notes, which was no disappointment. July’s traditional voice and gutsy lyrics are what brought her to the finals, and she was making it known.

After a quick interval, Harry Pane was next welcomed to the stage, guitar in hand. Having already gained a slot at Glastonbury this year and been added to the ‘Best of March’ playlist by Richer Unsigned, he is making big waves on the unsigned scene. Beating straight into his first song, his sound is reminiscent of a modern-rock Cage the Elephant, with bluesy undertones. His coffee song is a touching story about his father who “kind of lost it in his noggin’” tapping in on memories of drinking coffee together over father-son conversation. The boy-next-door image works for him, and I have a feeling we’ll be seeing him around a whole lot more.

Already known to Coffee Music Project due to playing at the first ever competition last year in New York, Emm Winter was next on. Her reverting lyrics and country vocals are tough and tender, divulging stories of travel and troubled relationships. Her voice is beautifully traditional, showing real depth and effortlessness. She is a true storyteller in her songs, each relatable, however, beautifully unique.

The next artist to perform was Albert Man, who slowly glided onto the stage with awkward modesty to take his place behind his keyboard. Swiftly moving into his first song ‘Dream Team’, Albert leaves all theatrics up to his cheeky pop music. His competition song ‘Coffee Shop Girl’ was full of clever metaphors and great one liners that created smiles from ear to ear and audible laughter amongst the crowd.

The penultimate act was jazz singer Ina Reni who arrived on stage with her two-piece band constituting of double bass and keys. Her first song, briefly introduced as based on an awkward encounter with a personal trainer, wittily named ‘I Thought You Were Gay’ was  very well received with the hook met by raucous laughter and applaud. Ina gave an excellent performance, solidifying her reasons for making it through to the final stage.

Last but not least was singer-songwriter, Jamie Grey, who hushed the room with his subtle ballads that delivered on emotion and intensity. Proving his worth as a singer, the audience’s attention never seemed to wander. With both songs tapping into those uncomfortable feelings of relationship angst, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. It’s clear that Jamie Grey’s success is founded the understated lad with a heart, rather than big band spectacle.

Sadly, the evening of truly great music had to come to an end, but not before revealing who the winner and two runners up were. Ina Reni and Harry Pane were announced as the two runners up, winning supporting performance slots at The London Coffee Festival 2016. Finally, the winner of the Coffee Music Project 2016 was awarded to Jamie Grey, winning himself a grant of £1000 and the headline slot at The London Coffee Festival 2016.

by Jennifer Lyne

Music Blogger for Back Row Music

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