Describing itself as a Hackney hotspot since 2007, Paper Dress Vintage offers clothes by day and live music by night, when the rails of threads make way for the bar. Upstairs is a room with capacity for 120 and in this intimate setting, midway through the UK leg of their autumn tour, Joe Hicks and his band played a set of extraordinary quality.
For those yet to discover this home-grown artist, a few more details. Brought up in a blues-loving Berkshire home, Joe Hicks studied classical guitar in his teens, not acquiring his first electric until the age of 22. After studying in Boston at the Berklee College of Music, alma mater of John Mayer and other guitar virtuosos, Hicks became an in-demand session musician before releasing his first album in 2020. Encouraged by producer Sam Winfield, here on keyboards tonight, in 2022 he released his second album ‘The Best I Could Do at the Time’, recently adding an extended deluxe edition featuring live and acoustic versions.
With a smoke machine and subdued lighting enhancing the mood of an expectant audience, the immaculately presented band opened with an insistent ‘Sail Away’. Managing his king-sized pedal board with neat footwork invisible to the audience, there was nothing showy about Hicks, just an understated fluency that saw him effortlessly peel off tasteful licks to dovetail with the soulful vocals.
‘Maybe When It’s Over’ was an amalgam of rhythm and blues, Americana and soul, Hicks creating gorgeous tones on his Fender Stratocaster. Describing an unhappy period in his life, the song perfectly showcased his vibrato-laden rich tenor voice, transitioning to a heart-melting falsetto. Troubled relationships were the basis of several more tunes; ‘Out of My Mind’ was a well-constructed break-up song while ‘Make It Home’ offered a tender ballad on acoustic guitar. Changing direction, the Philadelphia soul sound of ‘Lost in Love’ was worthy of comparison with The Spinners’ ‘I’ll Be Around’ before the pace slowed with ‘Hand in Hand’, a delicately textured song of unrequited love.
‘Pieces’ afforded the chance for Hicks to fully flex his vocals, all the while accompanied by sensitive picking on acoustic guitar. It’s another take on lost love but with a resilience and determination in the lines – “Yeh I’m broke, but I’m not broken/And I’m shining even brighter than the sun.”
‘One More Step’ was one of the two singles from the album and received much critical acclaim. It was delivered immaculately with everything in perfect balance – credit here to the Paper Dress Vintage team for the exceptional sound quality throughout the evening. A pair of songs followed, ‘Hollow’ and ‘Cold’, both taken from Hicks’ self-titled début album and suggesting that further investigation of that record would be rewarding. Returning to the newer material, ‘Alive’ was a perfectly crafted song with a gorgeous guitar solo and ‘Weightless’ had a jazzier, syncopated feel, allowing the excellent drummer to show his skills.
Closing the show was ‘Mirror Mirror’, a single release with the same self-reflecting honesty evident throughout the album. It’s been a set of astonishing quality, worthy of a much larger venue but for those lucky enough to be present, an absolute privilege to witness.
Support was provided by Cordelia Gartside, who after several years working in education is now nearing the end of her first year as a full-time musician. Originally from Hastings, her opening number began with gentle strumming and a delicate voice, only to explode into impassioned rage. In her highly original set, Gartside’s brand of what she terms “creep-rock” was both whimsical and tortured. Having won an appearance at Glastonbury in 2023 through the Emerging Talent route, Cordelia Gartside is a name for the future.