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Review: Jesse Clegg Blends Skill and Soul at Studio 7


jesse cleggStudio 7 is a venue that creates an exclusive, stripped down acoustic performance for just 50 people. Set in a house in Sea Point with sea views, wooden floors, a fireplace, and comfy white couches, this is about as intimate a venue as you can get.

Founder Patrick Craig created Studio 7 out of impromptu jam sessions with friends that grew ever more popular. “Three years later and we’re basically just an upmarket shebeen,” he says with a wry smile. Having hosted the likes of Arno Carstens, Ard Matthews, Freshlyground and Dan Patlansky, Studio 7 is a little more than that. It’s a unique way to experience the best of  South African music.

The perfect place then, to enjoy an original acoustic set with Jesse Clegg and his new guitarist Richard Onraet of folk band Black Handed Kites, a young man who we last saw playing alongside local guitar icon Tony Cox and the internationally renowned guitarist Andrea Valeri.

Jesse Clegg needs no introduction to South African music lovers. His 2008 debut album, When I Wake Up, and the 2011 follow up, Life On Mars, have both made the 25-year-old a platinum-selling success in his home country. He has been nominated for three South African Music Awards over the course of his career.

In 2013, Jesse spent the first half of the year recording in Toronto and playing several well-received shows in New York. Now, on the back of a brand new single release, Jesse will be returning to New York to play at the influential CMJ Music Festival where he will be debuting his new track, ‘Sinking’.

However, we heard it here first.

I’ve chatted to many musicians who have played to capacity crowds at big venues, and they often confess to feeling really nervous before their Studio 7 session. Something about being in such close proximity to their audience, the challenge of stripped down sound and no theatrics is daunting. Not for Jesse Clegg however. “I love this vibe,” he says, explaining that they write all their songs in acoustic. So, the beauty of playing here is that they strip back to the bare bones, and play the songs the way they wrote them. They also get to play songs they wouldn’t normally perform live because they work so well in this special setting.

“I like to explain my thought processes,” Clegg says. “The act of writing music is an inward gazing act. It’s introverted. There is a focus on the craft. But a musician must be extrovert and entertaining when performing on a stage – a strange paradigm shift. From my bedroom crying  and emotionally wrought, to on a stage performing.”

Love is a recurring theme in Clegg’s lyrics from the classic ballad ‘Black and White’ about the fear of not knowing where one stands in a relationship, via the dark and cynical look at love in ‘Disappearing Act’, to the supercharged, rock and roll ‘Clarity’. Jesse’s talent as a songwriter and his ability to move between ballads and rock are the sure marks of a great artist.

Although it was only the third time that they had played together, Onraet and Clegg sounded amazing. Their vibe, their skillful guitar playing and their soulful voices blended seamlessly. Both humble, down to earth musicians, their sincere love of music shines through. In a word, their sixty-minute set was ‘honest’. No gimmicks, no attitudes, simply heartfelt music. And that’s pretty rare and well worth paying for – even in an upmarket shebeen.

Samantha Reynolds

Samantha Reynolds is a travel writer and photographer, and more of her work can be found on her blog, Travel and Photography – Golden Dreams.


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