From exuberance to the earthy depths in 24 hours – back to back nights at Colchester Arts Centre

Whilst waiting for Wednesday`s gig I came across a slightly weird amazonesque site which listed all the bands who had played Colchester Arts Centre, with their most recent date. Needless to say it was a long and very diverse list…and I wish I could find said link now!

However I mention it as over the last two nights I`ve experienced just a small sense of that breadth.

Tuesday (1 October) was all about exuberance, or as exuberant as you can be in a sold out, seated gig. The arts centre is known for many things but comfort when squeezed in like sardines in rows is not one of them. First we swooned, swayed and were won over by the lush sound of the two lead singers of the Goldheart Assembly. Delayed by a brief food stop I arrived just in time for the last two numbers, but that was enough to send me scurrying to spotify today for a proper listen to Wolves and Thieves, with full band.  With a hint of Fleet Foxes, soaring harmonies and overall pastoral feel they are worth checking out.

Goldheart Assembly were a suitable  precursor to the Magic Numbers, once darlings of the indie festival stage (but perhaps not so Top of the Pops) with their joyous harmonies and hummable, americana esque sound. But that was then. Like I suspect many others, I assumed the band had bit the dust, but here they were, as if they had never been away, playing an acoustic set at the arts centre. Acoustic mind, does not mean stripped back, as the band seemed to have brought every instrument they owned with them (including a randy double bass who had fathered several violas in the Isle of Wight). And that joy, that gusto, and their glorious harmonic touch has clearly not been lost. It was an exuberant set easily mixing some new material with old favourites and finishing with a thrilling drumming finale (Shot in the Dark)! Wasn’t sure if I was going as an old fan, or going in with my retro, ironic hat on…came out looking forward to hearing the soon to be released fourth album.

Wednesday night was very different, that exuberance being replaced by a more earthy, dark, perhaps even bleak tone. If Tuesday was bands of the South, Wednesday brought us a response from further North.  Serious listening was called for. Dressed in black with the inevitable Cure T Shirt, Martin Longstaff of Lake Poets is the most selfdepreciating Sunderlander I’ve ever heard.  His songs of loss, love, rain and shipyards trod the well worn path of the traditional singer song writer but in his writing there is an honesty and kind of aching beauty which makes you want to sit up and listen.

Nadine Shah and band take to the stage to a moody soundtrack, hinting at suspense, something dark around the corner. But none of this quite prepares you for Shah`s ethereal, distinct, stylised voice. Its a voice which paints vast impressionistic pictures with great swathes of earthy colour, painted layer upon layer, images which suggest hurt and danger.

At times its thrilling, at times haunting. The lyrics (usually only half heard),seem almost irrelevant; merely tools in creating a sensory world which is as chilling and un settling as it is hypnotic. Her music is a precise blend of morbid blues with echoes of Anthony and the Johnsons, Patrick Wolf, Marianne Faithfull as well as the darker Chaunteuse singers. An ex church , with its memorial plaques still clinging to the wall seems the perfect setting for her, one track `Remember` even featured last post esque brass! In fact the set started with a number that could have been a James Bond theme and then progressively becomes darker and edgier. The further the music descended the more beautiful it became; all building to the soaring arc of Runaway. I’ll take `runaway to your heart` as a perfectly, and for a Shah set curiously, uplifting end to the evening.

Quite a contrasting pair of evenings.  In fact the only common ground (apart from both being great gigs) seemed to be the bands description of the very different audiences – `Your really quiet and attentive` we were told on both nights….a suitable audience for a deconcecrated church.

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