Two nights at the O2 Shepherds Bush Empire

Last Wednesday Emily Barker and the Red Clay Halo. Then Thursday,  CHVRCHES.

Two great concerts, very different, and yet with something in common…

If you’ve been following my blog, you’ll know I love Emily Barker’s music. The concert at Shepherd’s Bush was my fifth in the last couple of years. From seeing the band at the Lexington pub in Islington, supporting Eliza Carthy, to headlining the Shepherd’s Bush Empire, I’ve really enjoyed the trip.

This is Emily and the band on Wednesday. More electric than before, but as warm and deep as ever.


The focus, this time, was on the new album, “Dear River”, with its themes of home, of roots and new friendships. Emily, herself, from Australia, but having made England her new home.

There’s more electric guitar – and bass – than before. But the essence is still heartfelt songs, beautifully sung. “Letters” is for me the highlight of the album, and it was magnificent live.

“Ghost Narrative” runs it close, and that was brilliantly performed too, with Emily rocking out on the harmonica.  If you haven’t heard the album, I really do recommend it. It’s a great album from start to finish.


The set was sprinkled with old favourites (well, not that old…) too. “Ropes” and “Little Deaths” from the previous album, “Almanac” and of course those two Scandinavian thriller theme tunes, “Nostalgia” and “Pause”. “Pause”, especially, will always be a favoutite for me. Those simple strummed electric chords, the plaintive melody and the beautiful harmonies from Gill, Jo and Anna. That was the song that made me realise how good they were when I first saw them, and it’s still as good.

This is the band doing “Pause”. Guitar and voices….


A wonderful concert. Set me up for Thursday!


CHVRCHES was totally different. On the Monday I didn’t even have a ticket. but I’d been listening to the band a lot and saw them on a recorded Jules Holland “Later” on BBC 2 from a few weeks ago. I was getting to like the music more and more. In fact, I was hardly listening to anything else. I decided I had to go to see them, because I’d just be going what-might-have-been otherwise. So I paid a bit of a premium for a ticket on-line, but was in there on Thursday.

It was a great concert. The music was superb – just like the album, really – and Lauren Mayberry’s singing floated beautifully over the eighties synth rhythms. She had a cold and drank a lot of water. She was struggling through, but she didn’t let anyone down. The set started with “We Sink”, which could be Depeche Mode, except Lauren’s voice and her delicate presence live makes it a very different experience. It made me think back to all the New Romantic and electro pop bands of the eighties. Mostly male singers being grandiose. Annie Lennox and Alyson Moyet the exceptions. Both of them, though, going for the big soul voice. Lauren is different. If you were going to try to compare her, it would be with Elizabeth Fraser of the Cocteau Twins for the way she is enmeshed with the music, maybe Clare Grogan of Altered Images just for the voice over some infectious indie-pop beats, maybe Kate Bush for the way that her voice drives the rest of the sound. Maybe even Debbie Harry, for her style and the perfect pop melodies. But this is just me harking back to the past, which I always find impossible to resist. The point, really, is:  CHVRCHES are making amazing pop music, that references the past, for today. And Lauren – with her beautifully floating voice, and striking eye make up, and forthright, articulate views, is undeniably central to their appeal. She is the epitome of indie. Intelligence, unconventional beauty, rock’n’roll.

I forgot to take my camera, so all my shots are with the iPhone, which couldn’t cope with the lights. So I went for the positive, and zoomed in for some abstract art…


The set was quite short – they don’t have a big back catalogue yet. Less than an hour and no encore. I did feel a sense of disappointment about that, but told myself it was early days – and Lauren wasn’t too well. But all the key songs were there and brilliantly performed. The light show was good too.  My favourite song, “Lies”, came in the middle of the set, and felt a bit distorted – the big synth beats slightly too fast. But ‘Tether”, towards the end, was magnificent, and “The Mother We Share”, closing the set, uplifting, a celebration.

I’m still playing the songs constantly on my iPod. ‘The Bones Of What You Believe” has to be favourite for my album of the year right now, although Emily’s “Dear River” will be up there, along with Disclosure’s “Settle”. We shall see!

I like this photo. Lots of colours and looks like one of the band – Martin, I think – has exploded! No offence, Martin. Just my iPhone.


Two exceptional concerts. Totally different. And yet….

Both bands appeal to me for all sorts of reasons, but at the heart are the beautiful melodies. And sometimes that sense of melancholy which makes a song so moving. If you strip out all the effects, the presentation, you are left with a simple, beautiful song. And two wonderful singers. I’m sure Emily Barker could take “Tether” and turn it into a heart-rending country song. And likewise, I’m sure Iain and Martin from CHVRCHES could take that bridge on “Letters” to the greatest electronic heights. While Lauren could take “Pause” to an achingly beautiful place.

What thoughts! I’ll keep enjoying them, and hope you might join in. Listen to those two brilliant albums and take a view!

About John S

I'm blogging about the things I love: music, sport, culture, London, with some photos to illustrate aspects of our wonderful city. I’ve written a novel called “The Decision”, a futuristic political thriller, and first of a trilogy. I’m also the author of a book on music since the 1970s called “ I Was There - A Musical Journey” and a volume of poetry about youth, “Growin’ Up - Snapshots/ Fragments”. All available on Amazon and Kindle.
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