The city of Norwich is full of historic churches; this church of St Swithin was converted into an Arts Centre in 1980 and won the NME award for best small venue in Britain in 2014. It was the perfect venue for the gothic-folk of Smoke Fairies.
Accompanied by a drummer (and later to join the headliners on bass), John J Presley lets his guitar, bottleneck and deep-toned voice bring the audience into his world. With an echoing guitar sound straining and distorting, his songs use dark riffs on the lower strings on ‘Dance with Me’ and delve into murky blues for ‘On a Sunday’. ‘Left’ was a faster pop-like stomp and I found that the final song ‘Riders’ was a concise movie soundtrack lingering powerfully into the memory.
Smoke Fairies have a very new album out evocatively titled ‘Darkness Brings The Wonders Home’ and that formed the core of their set tonight, brought to life by the atmospheric guitar playing and magical dual voices of Jessica and Katherine. Opener ‘Super Tremolo’ has a tense, urgent structure and immediately all the elements are in place, a firm foundation from bass and drums as the guitars intertwine lines that fade in and out and the double line of vocals power through but float above the song.
Like a dark medieval folk song ‘Out Of The Woods’ is a definite highlight, the melody sounds like it is coming at you through the silvery trees and the harmonies in the chorus are otherworldly and sublime. Older songs such as ‘Summer Fades’ and ‘After The Rain’ from their first LP show how the band has developed to embrace different styles. ‘Left To Roll’ was the slow-burning emotional centrepiece of the show and the paranoid dream of ‘Elevator’ is built round a fuzzy, sinister chord sequence.
The encore featured the dense, complex ‘Feel It Coming Near’ and finally another new highlight, the rocking ‘Chocolate Rabbit’ (‘….you’re hollow inside, you leave me unsatisfied…’)
This is one of my favourite venues and Smoke Fairies are a band who can effortlessly weave their music into the fabric of this ancient building, as their majestic harmonies float up into the vaulted roof…
Singer/songwriter/guitarist Vic Allen has continued to release top-quality singles since her ‘Between The Lines’ EP in early 2018. The Norwich-based performer blends heartfelt lyrics with a new-country instrumental backing, subtle and always reflective of the sentiment of the song. ‘Talk’ had a longing and urgency in the sung short phrases before the chorus sailed in with its descending backing voices and raised the track to new heights.
‘Enough’ was built around a mid-tone guitar figure which continues effectively through the song as the lyric unwinds ‘… walking home with my headphones on…same old street…same old song…‘. The tale of frustration weaved through with the chasing of dreams resolves into the chorus line ‘…it ain’t enough for me…’. It is an impressive song of questing and questioning with a contemplative and cinematic soundtrack.
Now new single ‘Ghost Town’ is a more soulful ballad, with the vocal performance the key aspect as guitar effects drift in and out below. It is a slow building complex track featuring melancholy thoughts, ‘….I don’t want to fall asleep with this fear in my heart…’ with bleak conclusions ‘…out here it’s just a ghost town…’.
Halfway through the percussion joins to propel the narrator and listener through the emotionally desolate townscape of the title. With a mesmerising voice, a deep bass line and a spectrum of guitars and sonic textures this adds up to a haunting and memorable single.
A new self-produced EP from Norwich based singer/songwriter/instrumentalist Hydra Lerna, building musical textures around her harp-playing and electronic treatments.
1. Reckless A distant tone introduces a recurring loop figure on the harp, other sounds drift in and out but the gorgeous vocal really lifts the song; understated but intense ‘…it’s clear that I know what I want and it’s becoming an addiction, you’re becoming my addiction….‘ The soaring chorus melody carries all before it and electronic percussion patterns and bass pedals help to build up the drama. This a stunning start to the EP.
2. Angel v. Psycho This is a bit more sparse and spiky with a processed voice, creating a darker atmosphere and never quite revealing where it is going.
3. Distraction This short analogue-toned electronic interlude floats dreamily in some alternative space, gradually adding the layers and the repeated title to enhance the mystery.
4. Hydra – Remix Back to a more conventional song structure here for this description of a relationship intertwined with a lyrical identification with the ‘Hydra of Lerna’ of Greek and Roman mythology. The staccato musical core of the track flows into a busy percussive chorus ‘…you’ve got power but I’ve got poison, I can take you down…’.
5. Birdcage – Remastered A waterfall of lovely harp triplets roll through the start and are never far away in this anthemic piece. A lyric of escape gives way to an instrumental coda; this is another track that shows the creativity, imagination and potential of this talented performer.
As part of a tour to promote their excellent third album, London quartet Teleman raised the pulses of their many devoted fans in Norwich (and those who had travelled from Cambridge…).
Support act C.A.R. (the performing name of Chloé Raunet) plays electronic soundscapes where a pulsing bass line underpins her hypnotic vocals and synthesiser lines. Singing in French for ‘La petite fille du 3ème’ added a haunting sixties texture to the sound. An impressive set, well appreciated by the audience.
As the stage was set up to the accompaniment of disturbing mixes of white noise and film soundtracks (2001, The Blob(!) et al) and the LED backdrop glowed with random lightning flashes we were wondering how the current Teleman live sound would reflect the new recordings. Straight in with one of my favourites ‘Strange Combinations’, inexplicably not on any album, but showcasing many of the elements that make the band so compulsive.
New song ‘Cactus’ also does this, with a deep synth riff that drives the song to its loud conclusion, given extra potency when the bass guitar thunders in to add an extra layer.
‘Fun Destruction’ has some great retro synthesiser settings too, while the surreal narrative of title track ‘Family Of Aliens’ is strangely evocative. ‘Submarine Life’ features a vocoder vocal with the funkiest bassline of the evening and the foreboding gothic mood of ‘Fall In Time’ unravels and unnerves like a Hammer Horror. ‘Song For A Seagull’ has a lovely melody and lyric and ‘Twisted Heart’ is a good poppy blast with a hookline chorus that sticks in the mind. To finish the main set fan favourite the mighty ‘Düsseldorf’ pushes all before it. For the encore we had relative oldies ‘Christina’ and modern-life list song ‘Not In Control’ and then it was all over, the time had flown by.
This was the 5th time I had seen the band since 2014; in each show the sound has evolved subtly in many directions and it is always fascinating to watch how the musical contributions of the four players gel so well together. They now have so many strong tracks that some favourites get left out of the set but tonight showed that Teleman are on fantastic form.
Vic Allen is a singer/songwriter/guitarist from Norwich, making a name for herself in the flourishing UK new-country/folk scene. This set of four songs is a follow-up to ‘The Missing Piece’ EP from 2016. Opening track ‘Quit’ is a melancholy tale of the end of a relationship, woven through with resignation and reality. The gentler guitar work in the verses steps up into the sweeping but controlled chorus and the video partly filmed on the vast and strangely empty beaches of the Norfolk coast symbolises better times now gone. ‘Bittersweet’ is affecting in its deceptive simplicity, with some subtle vocal harmonies.
The title track is all about escape into the wide open spaces and an unknown future, a preferable alternative to a life trapped ‘Between The Lines’, set to a more conventional US country sound of instrumentation and vocal stylings than the rest of the EP. It is a fine soundtrack to the road-trip video that accompanies the music. ‘Kids’ is Vic’s best vocal performance, full of heartfelt mellow nostalgia for lost time over counterpointing guitar figures and a haunting hookline.
It is an impressive EP, four contrasting tracks that showcase Vic Allen’s expressive voice and songwriting potential.
Three upcoming acts from the Momentum funding programme in the converted church that is Norwich Arts Centre. First on was Love Ssega, originally part of Clean Bandit, he now records polyrhythmic funk and soulful commentaries on modern life. Tonight his full band were stripped back to a subtle single electric guitar, this was an empathetic accompaniment to his strong voice and winning personality.
Hannah Peel is an amazingly talented solo performer, dressed in a white flowing outfit, surrounded by keyboards and conjuring extra sounds and effects from violin, a music box and her voice she takes herself and the audience to another plane. ‘All That Matters’ is a show-stopper, even better than the recorded version.
Back projections of her parents’ wedding video from 1978 seem timeless as the gorgeous and melodic ballad ‘Tenderly’ builds to a crescendo. I’m not sure quite what ‘Cars In The Garden’ is all about but it is a fine and memorable song. She ended the set with the epic ‘Foreverest’, an electronic spectacular; more evidence that Hannah is a creative force to be reckoned with.
Musical free spirit Mary Epworth has just released her second album, ‘Elytral’ (..relating to the wing cases of a beetle…) and tonight with a four piece band she enhanced the recorded versions of many of the tracks, with industrial bold beats, plenty of percussion, free-flowing saxophone and deep, deep bass synthesiser; it is a heady mix.
At times sounding like a modern version of ‘Being Boiled’ by the Human League but with Mary’s voice floating and yearning over the music she has created a sound all her own. This is most evident on ‘Me Swimming’, an extended, echoing piece with haunting hookline. ‘Last Night’ has a more ambient experimental start then a cacophony of synth crashes in like distorted sirens.
…..and the music disappeared upwards into the high rafters of this superb venue….
Describing themselves as “a righteous quartet of musical adventurers”, The Magic Es are part of the Norwich music scene.
This impressive four track EP is rooted firmly in a pure, unadorned sound, with strong influences from bands such as the Who. Opener ‘Headrush’ starts with a simple guitar figure and lonely vocal but then a great bass sound rolls in and the track gradually builds. The production gives a very good ‘as live’ sound which I am sure would be even stronger in a cramped and dedicated music venue. ‘Running Through’ has a more country-rock feel with vocals from Pete Thompson having a yearning and strained quality similar to Roger Daltrey.
My favourite song ‘Melody Jane’ has a garage-band simplicity, but that can be deceptive, all of the tracks on this EP have surprise middle sections, snatches of guitar solo and many other deft touches. The more epic soundscape of final track ‘Cellar Door’ is driven by acoustic guitar and a cryptic vocal, finally fading into an electronic coda.
This is a confident debut EP, it needs to be played loud. Very loud…