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.
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!