What made this night at the Jazz Café more interesting than most is that two of the performers were both striving to become known as significantly more than merely being from a famous family. In Mollie Marriott’s case, that is being daughter of the late Steve Marriott of Small Faces fame; and Alex Francis is the brother of the permanently fedora-d James Bay (tellingly, his stage name was Alex Bay until the day after this gig, when his Facebook was changed to Alex Francis).
Having a famous family member has always proven to be either a gift or a curse for many musicians; even the fact we’re discussing it now is testament to this fact. Fortunately for Mollie and Alex, they showcased enough evidence that here are two artists who are names to watch out for in their own right.
With the queue stretching right down Camden’s Parkway on a bitingly cold January night, Mollie Marriott was entrusted with the unenviable task of winning some very frosty hearts and minds with an early set time of 8.30pm. While Mollie is not the unsigned of the two (she releases with Mita Records), the rock and roll heritage certainly weighs heavy. But, as mentioned, a select few musicians have gone on to use this advantageously, and it’s difficult to see any reason why Mollie won’t do just that.
As soon as she walked on stage, it fully belonged to her. A Million Miles proved to be a great opener, and Transformer and its bluesy guitar riff really set the tone. Her set was almost exclusively made up of her soulful rock songs, with one notable exception: Gravity, a beautiful and more mellow number she co-wrote with her bass player. Here, Mollie showcases one of her biggest assets: her powerful voice. She possesses this gravel-tone that you can't help but warm to, and it was a real treat to hear it over Gravity: a quieter backdrop to the rest of her material, in which she told us of “all my education/and lessons of the heart”, and indulged in some nice little vocal tradeoffs with her band. Lovely stuff.
By the end of her set, Mollie confessed that “playing at the Jazz Café is scary”. Well she could have fooled me! Throughout her captivating performance, she was moving around with great swagger and interacting with her fantastic backing band throughout, arms gesticulating. Her stage presence was assured, as she basically had the audience at hello. We got to hear several more songs from her upcoming album, which will inevitably be where Mollie will be judged more completely, but if tonight is anything to go by, that will, without question, be a record to watch out for.
Next up, Alex Francis, who doesn't have the backing of a record label, and has arguably a more challenging road ahead. However, once again, he gave no verbal or physical signs of any nervousness – quite the opposite. He’s also a captivating figure on stage, whether he’s holding his tambourine or his acoustic guitar, and is backed by a very long-haired and capable band.
While he also composes R&B and soul-influenced rock in a similar vein to Mollie, there is still a distinct personality here. Songs such as Make Believe, led by an irresistible jazzy piano riff, perfectly showcased the evening’s second wonderful voice, one which is so soulful that you’re surprised to learn it comes from Hertfordshire. As he made his way up the Jazz Café’s famous staircase offstage, you got the sense he’s headed not only for the venue’s VIP section upstairs, but for much bigger things.
What’s in a name? For Mollie Marriott and Alex Francis, success on their own terms.