On Monday I took a trip to Bristol to see one of my favourite artists at the moment, Indigo Sparke. She’s an Australian indie-folk singer, currently based in New York. She released a new album in October called Hysteria, which was produced by Aaron Dessner of the National, who was involved, of course, in Taylor Swift’s Folklore and Evermore albums. I first came across her music last year, courtesy of the Spotify algorithm. I’d been listening to another Aussie indie-folk singer, Julia Jacklin, and let it run after the album was over. A couple of songs in a hauntingly beautiful tune played. It was The Day I Drove the Car Around the Block by Indigo Sparke. A prosaic title for such a striking song. Not knowing anything about her, I checked what else she had on Spotify. A 2021 release, the album Echo, stood out. A wonderfully spare, resonant collection, mostly just Indigo and her guitar, electric and acoustic. And yes, there was lots of echo. It felt like desert music, which the album cover reinforced. I loved the album, and made it No 2 in my albums of the year.
Echo was actually recorded in 2019, so Hysteria wasn’t really as quick a follow up as it might seem. It has a fuller sound than Echo, with a band backing Indigo on this one. And you can hear the influence of Aaron Dessner. But the beauty of Indigo’s voice and the melodies remain. As does the angst and burning emotion. It’s a captivating collection of songs, and is shaping up to be high on this year’s Best Of selection.
So, when I heard she was doing a short tour of the UK I knew I had to get to one of the concerts. Normally that would be in London, but she is playing the Pitchfork festival this Friday, and I already had tickets for Julia Jacklin – had to be her, didn’t it? – at the Roundhouse. I always like an excuse to visit Bristol, so I booked a ticket for her show there at the Louisiana, which is just down the road from Bristol’s M Shed museum, on the banks of the Avon. Had to catch a coach to Bristol as a rail strike had been planned for that day, although it was called off at the last minute. All went smoothly, after taking 45 minutes to crawl from Victoria Coach Station to Earl’s Court and the A4!
The Louisiana venue is above a pub of the same name. A lot of up and coming bands play there. Indigo mentioned that there was a flyer on the wall of the “green room” advertising the National in the early 2000s. Bristol punk rockers Idles frequented the venue in their early days. It’s quite small – no more than 200 capacity, I’d guess. Intimate – the perfect setting for Indigo Sparke tonight. It was quite a small crowd, which gave people the opportunity to sit down at the front if they wanted to. She’s been supporting the National on tour in the US recently, so this was quite a contrast. A bit of a respite, I’d guess – she came across in between songs as quite intense and vulnerable – and she commented on how “warm and relaxed” the evening was. She mentioned that she wasn’t feeling too well and asked if the lighting could be turned down. That was fine, and she played a a heart-warming set of songs mostly from Hysteria, a couple of highlights being the Sharon van Etten-like intensity of Golden Ribbons, and the poignant, rolling melody of Sad is Love. There were one or two ventures into the past, including a wonderful rendition of Carnival, one of my favourite songs from Echo. It was mostly just her and her guitars, but there were layers of sound in her playing, and her voice soared, despite her illness. Maybe because of how she was feeling the set was less than an hour, but she gave it her all. She also talked very interestingly about the provenance of the songs, as well as her fears and insecurities. All in a humorous and engaging way. A lot of Hysteria was written during and after a difficult recent relationship, as she explained after she played Burn. The refrain on that song, don’t wanna talk about it, couldn’t be further from the reality!
She was accompanied on vocals for a few songs by the opening artist Jackie Smith. Jackie’s own set was a taster for Indigo’s, being just her and an electric guitar. It turned out she is also Indigo’s tour manager and good friend, providing her with reassurance when she needs it. You couldn’t help but find yourself rooting for them. Especially when Indigo talked about the parlous state of the music industry, and how much the musicians are being ripped off. They need the money from live shows and merch to survive as artists. Spotify introduced me to Indigo Sparke, but it barely provides her with a living, despite millions of streams.
After the show I bought a CD of Hysteria and had a brief word with her and Jackie. The Julia Jacklin connection goes quite deep – not only are they ploughing a similar musical furrow (Indigo a bit bluesier, Julia poppier at times) but they went to the same High School! Julia was in the year above. Right now Julia’s musical trajectory in the UK is more advanced, but I suspect that Indigo may get more traction in the end, especially in the US with the support of the National.
If you haven’t heard Echo or Hysteria, I’d recommended you give them a try. They are two of the most affecting albums I have heard in the last couple of years. And Monday’s show, performed against the odds – the concert in Glasgow the following night was cancelled – was a wonderful taste, I hope, of things to come. Indigo’s expecting to return with a band at some point, and that will be something to relish.