I went to a couple of concerts last week. Two of my favourite artists of recent years; both making their way, and getting better all the time. First, on Wednesday 2 May, was Catherine McGrath at Bush Hall, Shepherds Bush. Second, on Thursday 3 May, it was the turn of Gengahr at Koko, Camden. Bush Hall sold out; Koko close to it.
I’ve seen Catherine McGrath a few times since coming across her at Latitude last year. The most recent was her first headline show in London, at Camden Assembly in March this year. Bush Hall was a step up on that. And I’d say that this was the most confident I’ve seen her, and the band. Success begets success. Her debut album is due at the end of July, and there’s a promotional tour in September. That could be the real breakthrough moment – she certainly has the songs, the voice, the persona. One of the highlights of Wednesday’s show was the new single “Wild”. It’s a song that she was singing back in Latitude, but it has now been beefed up with Taylor Swift-style pop sheen. And she has now dropped the preamble – the story of the bloke who took her to a Coldplay and spent all his time texting his ex-girlfriend. It’s all there in the song anyway. Her introductions have always been endearing, but there were far fewer on Tuesday. The only two that survived were for “Cinderella”, her first Nashville song, and one of her loveliest tunes; and “Ellsworth”, a cover of a song by the country band Rascall Flatts. It’s a beautiful ballad, and one of the songs that got her into country music back in Northern Ireland. I found it the most moving moment of the concert on Tuesday.
She played all the top songs. “Just in Case” and “Starting from Now” were the openers. Hell Would Have to Freeze Over” was introduced with a smile as a “classic” (it is!), and the set closed with the celebratory and defiant “Talk of this Town”. She has reached the point now when she can ask the audience to sing the chorus – she is developing a real fanbase, and it is youthful. This augurs well for her future success.
Catherine was was fulsome in her thanks to the audience for this being a sell-out show. She is still pinching herself about her success. But this, I think, is just he beginning. She is going to be big.
Gengahr have just released their second album, “Where Wildness Grows”. I made their debut album, “A Dream Outside”, my top album of 2015. It was the best indie guitar album I’d heard since The Strokes’ first two albums in the early 2000s. And “Where Wildness Grows” may be even better. It has a layered, incredibly melodic sound, with those bursts of wild guitar from John Victor, which work so brilliantly live. And of course, there are Felix Bushe’s distinctive falsetto vocals, which add a fragility to the melodies; and, with some of the guitar, give the music a psychedelic feel at times. The outstanding tune, on the first few listens, is “Carrion”, and live, it was awesome, the set closer. Pulsing beats and some magnificent guitar.
The concert on Wednesday had a great mix of both albums – they almost alternated between the two. I liked that: they weren’t just promoting the new album. And the band played with a real elan. They know they have made a superb second album, and are proud to be playing it. The crowd were really enthusiastic: again I sensed that they are developing a strong and dedicated following. Mostly people in their twenties, I’d say. I did feel rather in a minority age-wise, but was happy to be so.
So many highlights, but standouts included: “I’ll be Waiting”, “Mallory” and “Before Sunrise” from the new album, and “Heroine”, “She’s a Witch” (of course – still the singalong song) and a lovely “Lonely as a Shark” in the encore from the first – before the mighty “Carrion”. There was also an interesting take on “Dark Star” from “A Dream Outside”. An instrumental normally, Felix now added vocals, and it worked well. A kind of breather, amid the euphoria. My only disappointment was that they didn’t play “Powder”, which has always been my favourite song. The best guitar wig-out of all. But you can’t have everything. This was a powerful, uplifting show. Gengahr are a very, very good band. And “Where Wildness Grows” will be vying for No 1 slot in my 2018 albums of the year.
So two very different concerts, but one thing in common: they have great futures ahead of them. They must!