Three concerts from a couple of weeks ago. They happened over a four day spell, from Saturday 7 May to Tuesday 10th. First and third were classic indie-pop; in the middle, some atmospheric electro-jazz. I’ll take them in chronological order.
Mattiel at Lafayette, King’s Cross, 7 May
Mattiel are a duo from Atlanta, Georgia, comprising singer Mattiel Brown and guitarist/producer Jonah Swilley. They released a self-titled debut album in 2018 and followed that with another, Satis Factory, in 2019. I came across them in 2019, when a few of their songs were given airtime by 6 Music. I particularly liked one called Keep the Change, which had a real New York feel to it – a bit of Bruce even. Thinking about it, the melody and rhythm reminded me a bit of Jesse Malin. He had a couple of albums I liked in the early 2000s, with songs like Mona Lisa and Queen of the Underworld. Mattiel has a more distinctive voice than Jesse’s – and an ear for a catchy melody. The easy categorisation is indie, but they’re not just another Strokes re-tread. Their earlier sounds have a strong hint of Americana and I’d say their influences go back to the 70s, at least. That’s acknowledged by the band’s cover of the Clash’s Guns of Brixton.
Like a lot of new bands, Mattiel’s progress was put on hold by the pandemic, but they came back this year with their best album yet, Georgia Gothic. There’s a richer sound to this one than its predecessors, and overall the songs are stronger. Highlights include Jeff Goldblum and Lighthouse, both of which bounce along and demand you join in the celebration. And that explains why the gig at Lafayette was a sell-out. The venue is part of the new development just north of King’s Cross station. I hadn’t been there before, but I liked it. There’s a modern bar upstairs and the music venue downstairs is designed so that the 300 or so audience get good views of the wide stage. I thought that maybe there were slightly too many people packed in, but Jon and I managed to find a bit of space near the bar at the back, having got there just as the concert was about to begin.
I was interested to see that the crowd was fairly young – mostly 20s or early 30s, I’d say. That surprised me a little, given that Mattiel’s music is classic indie and rock, essentially. Maybe it’s the 90s revival – or is it now the noughties? And the songs, drawn from all three albums, were greeted really enthusiastically. It was striking how many great choruses there were – an invitation to sing along, which a lot of people did. The one thing I’d say was missing was the rock’n’roll sound of a full four or five piece band. Mattiel sings and presses a few buttons, while Jonah plays guitar, without much stage presence. So the focus is very much on Mattiel. It might be anyway, but I think she’d benefit from having some more organic beats to sing along to. Call me old fashioned…
They came straight out of the traps with Jeff Goldblum, and Lighthouse soon followed. Another favourite during the main set was Subterranean Shut-in Blues, which does nod to Bob Dylan given the title, and has a very catchy chorus about making me nervous. They rattled through 18 songs and came back for five more – a very generous set list. Jonah swapped his electric guitar for an acoustic in the encore, and paradoxically that gave the songs a harder edge. And what a great surprise to hear Guns of Brixton – they did the Clash classic full justice. They kept the best till last – Keep the Change. Mattiel sings I’ve wasted all my time, but nothing could be further from the truth. A really enjoyable evening.
Portico Quartet at Koko, Camden, 8 May
I first saw Portico Quartet in March 2012, supporting Scritti Politti at the Lexington on the Pentonville Road. It was part of a series of concerts promoted by the Word magazine – sadly no more, though Mark Ellen and David Hepworth keep the spirit going with their excellent Word podcast. I’d not heard much about the band before the gig, even though their 2007 debut album Knee Deep in the North Sea was nominated for the 2008 Mercury music prize. Here’s what I said about them in my review at the time:
First band on was Portico Quartet. We missed a bit of their set, drinking beers downstairs, waiting for one of our number and then just chatting. But as soon as we got upstairs, I was just blown away. Four young guys extracting amazing sounds from a mini-sax, drums, double bass with occasional violin bow, synth and a set of sort-of steel drums. It was at the same time prog rock, jazz, world. It was haunting, it grooved and the bass lines shook the floor. You could feel the vibrations rise up your legs. It was like a sound system at Notting Hill. A thought occurred that this was the kind of sound that Radiohead are increasingly heading towards. I imagined what it might be like with Thom Yorke singing over it (with no disrespect to the drummer who did a bit of singing). Awesome.
I’ve followed the band ever since, though not in a dedicated way. They make jazzy, ambient electronica – their website describes it as widescreen instrumental music – which is relaxing, absorbing, but, like the band themselves, rather unassuming. They are there when you want them, but they don’t scream for attention. Seven albums since they started, and various collaborations. All high quality. The band members are: Jack Wylie on saxophone and keyboards, Duncan Bellamy on drums and electronics, Milo Fitzpatrick on electric and double bass and Keir Vine on keyboards. All but Keir Vine are original members of the band; he replaced Nick Mulvey, who left in 2011, to pursue a successful solo career. And that sort-of steel drum I referred to in 2012 is called a hang, and still features in their sound.
When I saw that Portico Quartet were playing Koko, I thought it was a good opportunity to renew the acquaintance with the band and the venue. Koko had been closed since January 2020, when a fire destroyed the roof of the building. I always liked going there for gigs – a nice size – around 1,500 – and with some of the old musical hall/theatre designed retained. It had, of course, been the Camden Palace in the 80s and 90s, and before that, the Music Machine, a favoured punk venue, in the 70s. It dates back to the early 20th century, and I’m pretty sure must be the theatre which features in many of the paintings of Walter Sickert, currently the subject of a major new exhibition at Tate Britain. Jon G and Tony were up for the occasion, so after a couple of beers across the road at the Lyttelton Arms, we wandered over for an evening of cool, atmospheric jazz.
And that’s what we got. More than jazz of course – a lot of that ambient electronica, and some reverberating basslines. The lighting and dry ice was used cleverly to enhance the spacey atmospherics. I especially liked the way that it caught Jack Wylie’s sax and beamed out into the audience. The band were predictably low key, letting the music do the talking. Koko’s an all-standing venue, which gave the place a bit of a buzz – had it been seated, I think it would have been tempting to shut your eyes and just let it all flow. I honestly can’t tell you which tunes were played, though I think I recognised Impressions from last year’s album Monument. Likewise, I imagine that the new EP Next Stop featured. Both well worth a listen, as I’ve been doing since the concert.
An enriching evening of high quality music to immerse yourself in.
Gretel Hänlyn at Bermondsey Social Club, SE London, 10 May
This was a real night of discovery! It’s not often that I venture into the depths of SE London for a gig under some railway arches, but this was the location for Bermondsey Social Club. Slightly intimidating from the outside; inside a basic, but welcoming venue, holding at most 150 people, I’d say. And the artist, also new, though I’d been listening to her quite a lot in recent months. That’s thanks to Steve Lamacq, who has been backing her singles – a string of catchy indie rock’n’roll songs with Gretel’s deep voice giving them a distinctive edge. Each time I heard a new song of hers, I immediately thought, this is good, what is it? I assumed she must be Scandinavian, or German, given her name; but she is in fact from Acton, West London. Just down the road from my patch, Ealing. She does in fact have some German heritage; her real name is Maddy Haenlein. I’ll call her Gretel.
Gretel has recently released an EP called Slugeye, which brings together all her singles with some new tracks. Seven in all, checking in in a brisk twenty minutes. It’s not so different to Mattiel’s music, but with a more modern feel – the slower songs especially feel very contemporary. That’s no surprise when you read that Mura Masa has been involved in the production. This collection hits a lot of bases, and might just be the best new music I’ve heard this year. My favourite is the infectious rock’n’roll of Motorbike, closely followed by It’s the Future Baby, which was the first song of hers that I heard. Motorbike is absurdly catchy – with good promotion it could be this year’s Chaise Longue, Wet Leg’s irresistible first single, which became 2021’s indie sound of the summer.
Jon and I got to the venue in good time to see the support band, gglum, fronted by Ella Smoker, who is from Croydon and is half-Finnish. I didn’t know the music, but enjoyed it. In the same vein as Gretel Hänlyn, maybe a bit dreamier and less rooted in rock’n’roll. I read later that she’s had over two million streams on Spotify, which is impressive. She attended the Brit school apparently, which may help to explain things. I shall watch out for more from her.
This was Gretel’s first ever headline show, and she went for it from the start. First song was Motorbike and it rocked! It’s the Future Baby followed. She had a tight band, and a good dynamic with her bassist Edd Paul, who looked like he’d come straight from the gym. There must have been some new songs, as the set lasted a good hour. The ballad Connie went down really well – Gretel mentioned that in an Instagram poll it was voted favourite song on the EP. She played an Elliot Smith cover during the set too. The uptempo Apple Juice, the most recent single, was another highlight; and the set finished with the excellent Slugeye, one of the songs where it occurs to you that her voice has some resemblance to Hannah Reid’s (the London Grammar vocalist).
This was an upbeat, celebratory show, full of the joys of rock’n’roll, and the crowd’s reaction reflected that. Lots of love! She and the band were clearly delighted. That is so nice to see. There’s no doubt in my mind that she will go on to greater things, and I’ll be pleased to be able to say I was at her first headline show!