Aldous Harding is a singer from New Zealand who has been described as psych-folk. In other words, the foundation of her music is folk, but it twists and turns into something quite different. Her second album, “Party”, came out this year, and the only question for me is whether it is No 2 or No 3 in my top ten of the year.
The music on the album is extraordinarily beautiful in places, but also quite weird at times. It’s the mix of the lyrics – listen to the title track, “Party” – and the range of Aldous’s voice, which goes from jazz torch singer, to something quite child-like. It is an engrossing concoction.
The gig was the last leg of a great weekend. I went up first to Leeds with my son to see one of my daughters, who is at Leeds University. I also managed to take in Leeds Art Gallery, which is a great space, with a fascinating collection. It has recently been refurbished, and the splendour of the Victorian roof restored. There’s a splendid green-tiled cafe too. Check it out if you are in Leeds.
And on Sunday, after having a look round the University (last photo above is part of the Uni), I moved on to Manchester. The views from the train of the Pennine hills and the grey stone towns set into them were spectacular. In Manchester I took the opportunity to visit the Manchester Art gallery, where the highlight was the exhibition of Edwardian paintings. And the best of all, just like when I visited in March, were the Adolfe Vallette paintings of a Manchester in the early twentieth century tinged in fog – or smog. There were four in the exhibition. I find them entrancing and bathed in a kind of melancholy. I studied the technique. They are painted with oil on jute, or linen. They give the paintings texture, as well as absorbing the colour. I suspect this helps give the smog effect. Paradoxically they become clearer and brighter as you step further away. The opposite to real life.
I couldn’t not wander up to Albert Square afterwards, and to my delight, I found an absolutely buzzing scene. A Christmas market, German style, as well as an extravagant Santa, perched on the front of the town hall. The entire square was rammed with people, and quite a large part was taken up with bars serving German beers. Outside you could get excellent German Wurst. A dream combination.
And so to Aldous Harding at Gorilla. Not far from the canal. It was sold out, and the crowd was referential as she appeared. Much shushing, because the delicate fabric of her music brooks no interference. So it was nice to hear a singer in silence. She was amazing. The opening songs, “Swell does the Skull” and “I’m so Sorry” were sparse, beautiful, moving. She moved on to the more electronic ones on her new album like “Blend” and “Imagining my Man”. They got a great reception – deservedly so. She had backing from a keyboard player and bassist, on and off. Occasionally she relinquished the guitar, and gesticulated instead. It was captivating.
But towards the end it went slightly awry. During the wonderful “Party” a loud discussion broke out at the bar. She looked disturbed – though, to be fair, she had an intense stare quite a lot of the time. At the end of the next song*, the equally wonderful “Living the Classics”, she ended abruptly. She explained she’d got the pedals wrong. And then an air conditioning machine on the ceiling, not far from where I was standing, started to rumble. Gorilla is quite small – similar to the Scala in Kings Cross – so she could hear it. She said very little all evening, but did ask, “who invited that monster?”
The show went on, but I suspect Aldous was affected by all these things. She did come on for an encore, but just played a new song called Pilot. No “Horizon”. I wondered whether that had something to do with the disturbances, but she doesn’t seem to have played it on the British leg of her tour. Now she is a singer who clearly doesn’t stick to the tried and trusted, but I was surprised that she’d ditch her best known song when audiences are still getting to know her.
So, a fantastic concert, wonderful music which I recommend to you, but a rather odd ending. Gorilla’s venue is in a basement, and it’s good it doesn’t swelter, but it needs to sort that machine! As for the people arguing at the bar, think of everyone else, including the singer, for God’s sake.
*(There might have been a song in between these two. I can’t quite remember. I was too caught up in the songs and worrying about that air conditioning machine and the impact it might have. There’s no Setlist FM playlist yet!)