September 12, 2016
Paper Dress Vintage, Hackney, London
“OK, what’s the groove on this one?”
On one of the last days of summer, Emily Barker took the stage in a tiny crowded room to road test five songs from her forthcoming album. The Memphis influence clearly went beyond the location of the recording studio.
Sister Goodbye, which has been a mainstay of Barker’s set for the past year, is gospel-inspired and powerful; an especially arresting opener for those not yet familiar with Barker’s powerful vocals.
The (new) new songs, including Number 5 Hurricane and Sweet Kind of Blue, had a definite 70s vibe and are surely destined for road trips and singalongs.
With this new foray into up-tempo numbers, a little bit of dancing was called for. Luckily, Barker had assembled a supergroup to back her up musically. Members included Gill Sandell – formerly of The Red Clay Halo and now a folk singer-songwriter in her own right, Romeo Stodart of The Magic Numbers and Lukas Drinkwater, whose duets album with Ange Drinkwater is currently fascinating folk fans.
After a quick turnaround and a glowing introduction, Jealous of the Birds took the stage. The praise was well-founded, Northern Irish singer Naomi Hamilton’s solo project is vibrant indie-rock filled with the optimism and angst of youth.
Hamilton was ably backed up by an unassuming home-town band. They added reverb and droning tones in all the right places to accent the haunting quality of Hamilton’s voice in Hornet’s Nest.
Meanwhile, the lyrics suggest influences beyond the standard indie-kid fare, there are references to Walt Whitman, Leonard Cohen and Franz Kafka.
“This songs is about taking Ecstasy in a shit nightclub in a weird part of town”
Next up, another Northern Irish act – Pat Dam Smyth. The performance was completely different but garnered the same level of high praise. Although not bouncing with youthful energy, the songs reminisced about teenage times; “that bit where you’re ready to kill for your 15 year old boyfriend or girlfriend…this whole album is about being 15, 16, 17…it’s also about a bomb that never went off.”
Like the lyrics, the sounds were all altered moods and emotions, a warm wall of sound made of vocal and guitar effects.
“I was so excited about the show I arrived in London a year and a half early”
Pete Gardiner burst on stage with a rockabilly number and an American accent. The vocals became more interesting still in the next song as his natural Northern Irish lilt emerged.
The performance was energetic and earnest, the lyrics clever: “Those London riots were a sight/East Belfast ones are better.” The set highlight was undoubtedly new single Pretty Smiles, as good as we had been primed to anticipate by the compere.
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