Beardyman live at the Arts Club in Liverpool

Posted on 14 November 2014
By Kate Menear
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Celebrating the release of his new album ‘Distractions’ Beardyman, real name Darren Foreman, hit up the Liverpool East Village Arts Club last night intending to deliver a night of beats, bass and all-round beardiness and he didn’t disappoint.

Supporting Beardyman on this cold November night were the beatboxing/warbling duo Lyons and La Zel.

James Lyons appeared on stage a solo act first, providing us with a playful yet intense set wherein he managed to beatbox, flutebox, Harmoni(ca)-box (too far?) as well as incorporate his guitar into these symphonic shenanigans.

Three or four tracks into James’ solo a worrying thought had dawned on me: I’d never seen/heard beatboxing for a period longer than about 3-5 minutes on YouTube or perhaps (as shameful as it is to admit) the talent-homogenising Britain’s Got Talent.

Lyons’ skill was impressive: he was adept, confident and engaging with the audience. But 15 minutes deep, during Lyons’ clearing-the-back-of-my-throat-song, I was concerned as to what I had let myself in for: was this going to be a night of endurance rather than enjoyment?

My fears subsided as Léa joined Lyons onstage. Adorned in sequins and face-paint reminiscent of Ziggy Stardust what La Zel brings to Lyons is a more constructed sound making beatboxing more accessible to newcomers like me.

La Zel’s clear voice, accented like Lily Allen’s but infinitely stronger, accompanies Lyons’ relentless beat like a warm bath on a cold day. What Lyons brings to La Zel is an off-beat (pun intended) twist to her otherwise conventional vocal. This combination is genre-defying, non-conformist and surprisingly beautiful.

Songs like Papillon’s, Parisian-stylings about being ‘bound by love’ are testament to this unexpectedly tender vibe. After a few tracks together and one including a guest-vocal from La Zel’s equally lovely sister called ‘Adventures in the Sand’ Lyons and La Zel leave the stage, and the crowd, in anticipation of the night’s main event.

This was my first proper experience of Beardyman, other than watching a few of his One Album Per Hour YouTube videos where he creates music manipulating his voice on cue from celebrity fans including Jack Black and Tim Minchin, so I am open-minded and as keen as anyone else in the room. But what Beardyman does on YouTube and how that translates to a live gig are two completely different things.

At 9pm Beardyman greets the now buzzing Liverpool crowd saying something along the lines of, “Liverpool is the place to live, if you live in London you are a shniv.”

Although he’s from London himself, Beardyman is well aware that slating the south and complimenting the city is always a good move with a Liverpool audience; call it a regional pride thing.

He’s appealing to the crowd to open up to him and at first I wonder why. It’s not until Beardyman really gets going that you see why he needs to create trust with his audience: the nature of his craft requires him to completely expose himself.

Using complex looper/production software that he has been creating himself for the last few years called the ‘Beardytron 5000 MkII’, in order to be unimpeded by the limits of his physicality (i.e: he has all of these voices but can only do one at a time), Beardyman is unprotected by the intricacy of his act.

His act is all natural and completely improvised on the spot and, although he recovers in lightning-fast speed, sometimes it doesn’t go how he wants it to.

This connection with the audience, of light-hearted banter, is one of mutual understanding which frees him to stop when it’s going wrong; address it and move on. He also jokes, “I’m making this all up on the spot and sometimes it just starts sounding like Ace of Base.” The more we worked with Beardyman, the more fruitful were the results.

Onto the sound, how can I explain it? Well basically I ended up being that person at a magic show wanting to have the tricks explained.

The hip-hop/techno/D&B sound was so fast and evolving by the second that I was stunned into disoriented silence and we were only 5 minutes in.

It was at this point (where I had stopped understanding where the noises were coming from or how what I was listening to was different to any DJ set in a club on a Friday night) that Beardyman chimed in, almost psychically, in a hilariously nasally train-platform-conductor voice, “This is a Public Service Announcement: Everything you just heard was actually my voice.” I laughed out loud at my foolishness.

As well as his Beardytron, Beardyman comes with a 3-cam set up and a screen behind him throbbing with psychedelic visuals like the first time you discovered clip-art and made garish PowerPoint presentations as a kid (but only it was a bit more like if you did this while you were on acid, as a kid).

Beardyman commends his tech guy who is also improvising the on-screen visuals, a lesser-praised but intrinsic element of the act shouting, “I never heard deadmau5 or Skrillex give shout outs to their tech guys: it’s key to the visual aspect.” – ‘Key to the visual aspect’ then loops in as the building blocks of the next track.

He’s surprisingly warm, inviting, smiley and dances way less cooler than you’d think (which is actually kind of cool).

The set, and encore, end up being a 2-hour blur of 100% non-stop; riffing, singing, swearing, cheeky asides and dancing accompanied by a fast, slow, hard, soft, horrible and lovely myriad of multi-layered, ever-evolving; sounds, beats and colours.

And it’s all just his voice.

If Beardyman’s music was a film character it’d be the fella out of Terminator who can look like anyone.

Unique, distinct and commanding: I left the Arts Club on a cloud unsure of what to do with myself but sure that I wanted to feel it all again.

4/5 only because of the headache I’ve got today.

Follow Beardyman @beardyman and Kate Menear @KateMenear