A trio of concerts: Julia Jacklin, Fat White Family and Aldous Harding, 3-5 December 2019

A little burst of concerts this week: three in succession from Tuesday to Thursday. A bit of beauty and the beast, musically speaking. Julia Jacklin and Aldous Harding, with Fat White Family in between. Julia and Aldous are two great favourites of mine. I’ve seen both live this year during the festival season: Julia at Latitude and Green Man and Aldous at Green Man, where I rated her performance the best of the weekend. They’ve both made great albums this year, which will be in my Top Ten (coming soon!). Their songs are often things of great beauty, a melancholy beauty at times. They both have wonderful voices with an impressive range that seems effortless. Fat White Family, on the other hand, are a lairy bunch, with a live sound that pounds you into submission for the most part, but is made highly entertaining by the antics of singer Lias Saoudi. I’m not that keen on their recorded output, which I find a bit tuneless and rather dull, but they make the best of what they’ve got live. And my friend Jon G and his son Louis love them!

I’ll take them in turn.

Julia Jacklin, O2 Forum Kentish Town, 3 December

Julia Jacklin’s second album, “Crushing” is a beautiful album that takes as its theme the break up of a long term relationship – Julia’s own. Like her first album, “Don’t Let the Kids Win”, it’s a mix of tuneful, occasionally uptempo Americana and heartfelt ballads. Those uptempo songs are deceptive – the lyrics are just as downbeat! “Crushing” is very dark in places, portraying a character who is pretty broken and feeling helpless. In some songs she’s feeling her way back into “normal” life – “Pressure to Party” is a good example – but in others she is just lost. My favourite is “Don’t Know How to Keep Loving You”, which is not only heartbreaking, but has two great guitar solos which I wish were a bit longer. There’s a Neil Young feel to it, which would be even more so if the guitar had really taken off at the end. The two live shows I’d seen this year both began with “Body”, the album opener, which is a superb song that ventures into the dark side of a broken relationship, and provides a theme that runs through the album – the singer wanting to have control of her body – or to take it back.  Excellent song that it is though, it does make for a rather subdued start to proceedings. So, it was second song at Kentish Town on Tuesday – preceded by an even more subdued (though lovely) tune called “Comfort”, which Julia sang solo with just her guitar, shrouded in darkness. It’s a song where the voice – internal or a friend? – reassures her that she’s really OK, though she doesn’t sound it.

Both songs worked beautifully tonight, in front of a receptive, sold-out, Forum. The beats then picked up, with “Leadlight”, “Cold Caller” (a single that didn’t make it onto either album) and the sarcastic “You Were Right”. Then it was time for the song that rivals “Don’t Know How” as the best on “Crushing” for me, “Turn Me Down”. It’s a plea for someone not to go out with her because she doesn’t feel ready yet, and features a very affecting cry of anguish in the second half of the song. Live it is very powerful. Julia spoke humorously about it though (she spoke a lot more than usual in fact). At a recent show in Manchester, when the song paused for that cry of  please just turn me down to begin, she heard someone in the front row say to a friend, “I hate this f****** song”! It put her off a bit. We loved it tonight though, but maybe quite not as much as “I Don’t Know How to Keep Loving You”. It must surely be the highlight of the show these days.  What a song!

And after that the tempo upped for three at the end that maybe a lot of people would say are their favourites: “Pool Party” off the first album, “Head Alone” (another of the body songs) and “Pressure to Party”. Angie McMahon, who was the support act, and is in a similar vein to Julia when it’s just her and her guitar, joined in for the last two. I thought Angie was pretty good, by the way. She has an album called “Salt” out this year. She was there for the second song of the encore too, a cover of a Britney Spears song called “I’m Not a Girl, Not yet a Woman”. Sounded like a 90s soft rock anthem. Prior to that Julia came out on her own for a typically lovely rendition of “Don’t Let the Kids Win”.

This gig was the last of her UK tour – I think she’s heading back home after a long period of touring. I read an interesting interview with her in Loud and Quiet a while back in which she said she was over the hurt of the broken relationship; but it must feel a bit taxing singing about it every night on stage. Still, that’s the life of the artist for you. I’m looking forward to hearing where Julia Jacklin goes next.

Angie McMahon

That Britney encore!

Fat White Family, EartH Hackney, 4 December

This was the third of four nights at EartH for FWF. It was close to sold out. Last week I saw Pumarosa in the theatre here. I did wonder whether it would be a suitable FWF venue. But in fact, there is a basement area too – pretty large and suitably murky for the sound and vision of Fat White family. I’ve seen them a few times now, but still only recognise two or three songs: “Auto-Neutron”, “Touch the Leather” and “Whitest Boy on the Beach”.  All got an airing, and were great. Their new album is a bit more varied and tuneful than its predecessors I’m told, but I haven’t braved it yet. The concert was, I guess, a bit less rocking than usual – guitarist and songwriter Saul Adamczewski had a solo spot at one point, which led to a surge of people at the bar and the loos, inevitably. The crowd responded best to the early and later songs, which featured the trademark crunching beats and chants and the cavorting of Lias, often in the melee of the front rows. It was a lively evening, as ever with FWF. They’re not that loveable, but they are undoubtedly rock’n’roll.

PS – It’s fair to say that if Jon wrote this bit of the review, you’d hear about one of the best shows of the year. (And he might have dozed off to Julia if he’d been there).

Aldous Harding, Roundhouse, 5 December

I really loved this show. Aldous Harding is always described as a bit quirky, even weird; and she certainly has an unusual line in lyrics. (Show the ferret to the egg in “The Barrel” is an absolutely classic of the genre, rivalling stones smell good when you cuddle them on “Party”). Her music attracts epithets like gothic folk, but there are jazzy inflections, pop beats and a strong torch song element too. It also attracts a reverence from the people who come to see her. I don’t know of any other artist who commands such rapt silence from her audience (in rock venues) – and she doesn’t even ask. She just stares disconcertingly out at us, and we obey! It feels like that if we didn’t the whole thing might just crumble to dust.

She began as she did at Green Man with a couple of solo efforts. Seated and playing a melodious acoustic guitar. And utterly captivating. The first two songs were both from her 2017 album “Party”. She opened with “I’m so Sorry”, which sounds like the title suggests, and then performed a beautiful version of “Living the Classics”. The first in her deeper, torch voice; the second the higher, almost child-like register. She moves from one to the other with ease, often within the same song. We then had a run of songs from this year’s album “Designer”, which I could have requested myself:  “Designer”, “Zoo Eyes” (What am I doing in Dubai?), “Fixture Picture”, “Treasure”, “The Barrel” and “Damn”. The highlight maybe “Treasure”. The guitar and the piano like a bubbling stream, Aldous’s voice wistful; a kind of love song. Just beautiful. And for “Damn” she took to the keyboard, sitting alongside her colleague, the two of them like they could be something out of Kraftwerk.

The last song of the main set was the wonderful “Blend” from “Party, which gets close to having a dance beat, and is a firm crowd favourite. And she returned with “Imagining my Man” which was another of the best moments in an entrancing show, demonstrating her vocal range to full effect. She finished perversely of course, with a new song called “Old Peel”, which felt a bit out of keeping with the smooth virtuosity of the rest of the set. It was the closest to conventional rockiness that I’ve heard from her. Not a portent for the future, I hope. Having said that, my friend Tony (new to Aldous) declared it his favourite song!

She’s back in London for a concert at the Barbican on 20 May next year. Who knows what she’ll be doing by then, but I’m sure it will be as engrossing as ever. Bought my tickets already!

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Pumarosa at EartH, Hackney, 27 November 2019

Pumarosa are a band I like a lot. I first saw them play at Latitude in 2016, where they made an excellent impression. Later that year I saw them at Village Underground in Shoreditch, where they put on a dazzling show. They have a big, quite grandiose sound that has reminders of U2, Savages, Bowie and Wolf Alice, to name a few. But it is their own sound, and especially the sound of singer and occasional guitarist Isabel Munoz-Newsome. Live, she is the focus, not just because she is the singer, but because the rest of the band are pretty static. But it works well, because she gives it her all while the band conjure up a powerful soundtrack.

Pumarosa released their first album, “The Witch”, in 2017.  The two songs that became big favourites were the portentous “Lion’s Den” and the Goth/dance track piece “Priestess”. But my favourite was the song “Honey”. It’s a simpler rock track than most on the album, but I liked the despairing take on what we are doing to our world, and especially the build-up and break out of the guitar solo about half way through the song. Definitely shades of The Edge in there, but that is always OK by me. I also developed an affection for the song through its connection with a novel I’ve written, called “The Decision”. It’s a dystopian political thriller set in 2027, where environmental degradation looms large. But there are relationships too, and one of these crystallises at the end of the novel. I was playing “Honey” as I wrote the last words of the novel – that was pure coincidence. But it then made sense: that guitar build up worked perfectly for the scene, if I imagined what it would be like in a film. And the overall environmental theme would be perfect too. So all I need now is a publisher and a film-maker! (You can buy it on Amazon, by the way).

The second album, “Devastation” was released recently. It follows a period of struggle for Isabel, which included being diagnosed with cervical cancer. I’m assuming she has come through that successfully, given her performance last night. The album is pretty amazing – striving even more for that big sound than in “The Witch”. The electronics dominate, though the guitar lurks in there and came more to the fore in live performance. It’s an album that rewards a few listens: you make the connections, feel the melodies and appreciate the beats. I hadn’t listened to it as much as I would have liked before last night’s show, but I was getting there. Songs like “Lose Control”, “Heaven” and “Lost in Her” had made a big impression, and “Into the Woods” promised to be pretty awesome live.

And it was – it was the opener. Even better, “Honey” survived the inevitable cull when you have a second album to showcase. It was the second song. Not everyone around me seemed familiar with it, but I exulted inwardly! A word for EartH too: it was my first time at the venue. The nearest station is Dalston Kingsland overground, though it’s generally described as being in Hackney (hence the H in the name). I really liked the venue. It was a theatre, but the seating was stepped wooden flooring. I thought it worked really well for a concert, and when we reached the point when everyone felt compelled to stand up (which was for “Priestess”) there was still ample space. The surroundings also contributed to the atmospheric feel of the show, accentuated by the lighting and a lot of dry ice!

The set was dominated by the new songs, but people seemed quite familiar with them. Highlights for me included “Into the Woods” at the start, which rocked, and the two songs that comprised the encore: “Lose Control” and  ”Devastation”. “Lose Control” is a electro-dance delight with a catchy chorus, and “Devastation” starts slowly and develops in a way that made me think it could have been influenced by some of David Bowie’s work on his last album “Blackstar”.

The set was only just over an hour and I would have liked to hear a bit more – perhaps the “oldies” like “Cecilia” or “Lion’s Den”, or “Lost in Her” from “Devastation” for example. But it was a great show. Undoubtedly the highlight for the audience was “Priestess”, which has a pretty irresistible dance beat lurking in its layers. And I’d go along with that, though hearing “Honey” was a joy.

Isabel commanded the stage, dressed in what looked like a psychedelic top, motorcycling leggings and a pair of white platform boots. But she was humble too – genuinely in awe of the venue they were playing and the number of people who had come. It was a pleasure to be there. The new album is very striking and gets better with every listen, and this show demonstrated the power that lies within those songs. I really hope they’ll be playing the summer festivals in 2020. A return to Latitude would be perfect!

 

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lovelondonscenes 166 – Autumn Colours, West London

Three Sundays ago the weather was good and I needed a walk. I kept it local, but managed ten miles on the way. Through Gunnersbury Park (much of which is fenced off at the moment) down to Kew Bridge; upstream along the Thames from Kew to Twickenham Bridge; and then back home, via a refreshment stop at the London Apprentice in Isleworth; Syon Park; Brentford; the Grand Union Canal and Boston Manor Park. A few photos below for your enjoyment. The colours and shapes of Autumn.

Gunnersbury Park

Down by the river

Grand Union Canal

A4

Another Northfields sunset.

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Maisie Peters at the O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire, 14 November 2019

I first came across Maisie Peters’ music in February this year after reading an interview with her on the Line of Best Fit website. She came across as a singer-songwriter with a twist. The article likened her to, amongst others, Laura Marling. Songs about relationships, but with a bit of depth to them, was the message.

So I listened to what Maisie had on Spotify. And I liked it. I didn’t get the Laura Marling connection, but I did get a whole load of very likeable pop songs with a bit of an edge in the lyrics. The subject matter was familiar: the joy of meeting someone, the hurt of them leaving, the anger at their behaviour, and even a bit of desire for revenge. And a little bit of sentimentality about home. Real life.

I downloaded her songs on iTunes and played them a bit. Not that much, but now and then. And then I found the tunes had lodged into my consciousness. I’d find myself remembering a bit of a melody, a snatch of the lyrics. They were infectious. At first my favourite two songs were at the opposite ends of the love spectrum: “Feels Like This”, which was a beautiful celebration of being with someone; and then “Birthday”, which was about the moment you realise it’s over. It was so sad! But then others worked their way in as well. Songs like “The Best I’ll Ever Sing” with its whoo-whoo refrain, and “You to You” in which Maisie hopes her ex’s new girlfriend does the same to him as he did to her.

It’s fair to say that these songs were not written for my demographic, but a good pop song is a good pop song, and Maisie Peters has loads of them.  She hasn’t released an album yet, but she has made two generous EPs and string of singles. Put them together and you have a pretty outstanding album. Her latest EP, “It’s Your Bed Babe, It’s Your Funeral” (a line from opener “This Is On You”) has a slicker, dancier feel than previous efforts, and will be as a result of the people she’s working with as they see her potential. But the lyrics are as cutting as ever and her voice is getting even better. The sense of place remains too, especially in “Personal Best”.

And so to the concert at The Shepherd’s Bush Empire. As Maisie said, this year in London, she had 300 at the Omeara, 800 at the Scala, and now 2000 at the Empire. It’s a good trajectory. She played for an hour or so, including the encore, and I think everyone there would have been happy to have more. There was an impressive engagement with her audience – teenagers at the front, but quite a mixed crowd overall. And they knew all the words. Pretty much at any time Maisie could leave the singing to the crowd. She ran through a selection of songs from all of her time so far – with an emphasis on the latest EP, obviously. It worked really well live, and, again, I was struck by how quickly her fans had engaged with her latest material. She played a bit of guitar now and then, but mostly she just sang – and danced. Early on she showed her confidence these days by singing a new song away from the mic, just strumming her guitar. It sounded like another good one.

Highlights are hard to pick out, as I enjoyed it all, sitting in the seats with a friend, not waving my iPhone around, as lots of people were. There are so many anthems! But I was struck by the reception for “The Best I’ll Ever Sing”, about half way through and the last song of all, “Worst of You”. It was the one we’d heard the girls singing in the queue before the venue opened, when we went to check times. Ironically, it’s incredibly popular though it’s got a rather passive do what you like, I love you theme, which is far from typical. It has a great melody though, and that’s what matters most in pop music.

So, yes, this wasn’t the sort of concert I usually go to, but it was one of the best of the year without a doubt. I think Maisie Peters can only get more popular.

A few more photos.

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lovelondonscenes 165 – White Cube Gallery, Bermondsey

A week ago I went down to the White Cube Gallery in Bermondsey to see a few exhibitions that were about to finish. The principal one was “Remains to be Seen” by Mona Hatoum, a Lebanese/Palestinian artist. The theme of the show was upheaval, disorder, dislocation, oppression. The exhibits were stark – mostly black against the white expanse of the White Cube. Some were monumental and it’s two of those that I concentrate on below.

This exhibition is over now, but I recommend the White Cube as a place to visit. It’s a beautifully designed space, and the the exhibitions are always interesting. It’s a ten minute walk from London Bridge station.

Outside, as I left, the first signs of darkness were appearing. Over the top of the buildings, the ubiquitous Shard began to gleam.

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Honeyblood at the Garage, Islington, 31 October 2019

Honeyblood are on a UK tour at the moment, and last night they played to a lively crowd at the Garage in Islington. It was Hallowe’en of course and could have been our last day as a member of the EU. Thankfully that’s been put off for a bit longer, so last night we could just concentrate on enjoying the show. This was the first time that the songs from this year’s album “In Plain Sight” featured strongly, aside from the three singles “The Third Degree”, “Glimmer” and “She’s a Nightmare”. Back in April, when I saw them in Leicester, there were outings for “Gibberish” and “Turn the Wheel” as well, but we’d never heard them before and the sound was a bit murky. Stina was also getting used to her new backing band, I thought. Now they are a very slick machine and last night they played with real zest and a sense of fun. They’d donned their silvery sci-fi gear which featured on their recent single “Bubble Gun” and were in a festive mood. Stina has written on social media that after this tour she plans to take some time out from touring, so this was maybe the last opportunity to see her perform for a while. If it is, she is going out on a high.

I loved the set, which was longer than usual. They played 19 songs, with 8 from “In Plain Sight”, 4 from “Babes Never Die” and 6 from the first album, “Honeyblood”. Plus “Bubble Gun”, which is a real glam rock stomper. All the “old” favourites, like “Babes Never Die”, “Sea Hearts”, “Ready for the Magic” (a rousing closer for the main set, as ever), “Super Rat” and “Killer Bangs” were there. And it was nice to hear “Walking at Midnight” again – the perfect song for Hallowe’en.  I enjoyed hearing songs like “The Tarantella”, “Touch” and “A Kiss From the Devil” live for the first time, and “Gibberish” had emerged from the Leicester murk to become a real rocker. They opened the set with “The Third Degree”; “Glimmer” and “She’s a Nightmare” came towards the end and are now up there with those old favourites as staples of the set. Great rock’n’roll songs.

The encore was interesting. First Stina came on alone and played “Bud”, from the first album. That’s one she’s favoured when she has played her solo sets. Then the band came back and they played one for the aficionados, “No Spare Key”, again from “Honeyblood”. Stina is drawing a lot on that debut album – it clearly means a lot to her personally. Her musical roots. “In Plain Sight” is a slicker, less raw (in sound) album than its predecessors, although the lyrics remain very personal. And the songs from it are really flourishing live.  I hope it won’t be too long before we see Stina, with or without band, on stage again singing all these wonderful songs.

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lovelondonscenes 164 – Kings Cross and Camden by the Regent’s Canal

Today was autumn’s collision with winter, as the clocks went back. But it was also a lovely sunny day and not too cold. A respite after rain, rain, rain. I took the Piccadilly Line up to King’s Cross and walked from there back to Paddington along the Regent’s Canal. The walk, which is not that long, takes you through Camden, Regent’s Park and Maida Vale, including Little Venice. The photos here, turned into black and white, are from the stretch between King’s Cross and Camden, starting around Coal Drop Yard.  A lot of it is relatively new development – this is an area transformed. A place you want to come to rather than avoid. Urban beauty.

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