“This is my favourite city”, gushes Tiger Lion’s Clementine Blue in her alluring French accent. Dressed in a pale silk kimono which sets off her perfect red curls, she looks every inch the intense electronic goddess that she is. The two guys with her on guitar and drums look slightly less passionate but ably accompany her purest vocal, as does the sampling box she uses to add variety and depth to their songwriting. Obvious influences are St Vincent and Tame Impala, but also classic painters – Blue is a visual artist herself and cites Hokusai’s famous Prussian blue as another inspiration for their new single ‘Black Sea’. Although this all sounds a bit pretentious, Tiger Lion champion brooding and atmospheric tunes that should put them yet more firmly on the map in Brighton’s gig scene, a fact Blue may be particularly grateful for. Her manner is confident yet modest, which, combined with a strong sense of identity, means that there is something compelling about them. “We’ve got two songs left”, she says, before looking at the promoter to check. “Haven’t we?” It appears not as she then turns to her bandmates to tell them that’s it. What a shame that the set was cut short. We shall look forward to the next time. Merci beaucoup.
Support act, Brighton-based Ellie Ford, could be part white witch for the Joanna Newsom tone to her voice. Often sounding like the fairy from much-loved 80s Christmas film, Scrooged, by this I obviously mean that Ford can switch from sailing purity to something more guttural in the pluck of her harp string, making for a captivating performance. Also drawing on influences such as Karen Dalton and Nick Drake, she fronts a band of four other musicians who champion her brand of understated contemporary folk.
“I’m honoured if anyone listens to my songs and I don’t really have any expectations of anyone. How would I describe my music to someone that’s never heard it? Outlaw paranormal pop”. Such is the brilliantly cool and slightly eccentric mind of one of Wales’ favourite sons, Gruff Rhys. Refreshingly original, he is as well-known as the frontman of indie-popsters Super Furry Animals as he is for his solo work, in which many of his releases are proudly delivered in his mother tongue. His accent is pretty amazing if he is speaking in English too. Watch a YouTube interview with him and hope that he says the word ‘orchestra’. You’ll see what I mean. Indeed, in recent years particularly, it seems that there is not much that he hasn’t touched creatively, notably delving into the world of film in 2014’s American Interior project (where he also created an app – that’s right, an app – to compliment the soundtrack and corresponding book), as well as performing with the Wales National Theatre alongside fellow Welshman, Sweet Baboo.
Manchester-based dream duo, Ríoghnach Connolly and Stuart McCallum, are the creative heart of The Breath, creating honest, personal songs as likely to touch on childhood summers and first love as cultural dislocation and grief. Connolly’s deeply soulful vocal coupled with McCallum’s understated brilliance give The Breath a gorgeous emotional depth and, joy of joys, they have just released a new album, Let the Cards Fall, as the follow up to their 2016 breakthrough, Carry Your Kin. Ahead of some select UK live dates, Anna Claxton caught up with singer and founding member, Ríoghnach, to find out why fairies stealing babies and soft rock singer, John Farnham, are amongst her inspirations and why Brighton has a great vibe.
“I am so pleased to be here on Halloween! And this place is called The Haunt which makes me so happy… and you sold it out!” beams Freya Ridings as she looks out over the packed venue. Fans are shoved in every nook and cranny, craning to catch a glimpse of the latest darling graduate of the BRIT school, who has been extremely attention-grabbing following the release of her debut single, ‘Blackout’, in spring last year. Just 24 years old and immaculately, radiantly beautiful – tonight sporting a festive cobweb painted on her left cheek – she seems genuinely touched by the electric reaction she gets. Of course, there is still the murmur of some people at the back who prefer to come to a gig to rabbit on to anyone who will listen, but with an emphatic “sssssshhhhhh” coming from the more fervent listeners amongst us, the majority of the room falls silent in appropriate reverence.
The Green Door Store always smells of incense. The quirky venue, all raw brick and uneven flooring, somehow goes hand-in-hand with the bands billed, something cosy and familiar about being in the intimate setting. For a sold out evening mid-week, it’s not too busy when Psychic Markers get going. Apparently they have played a few dates on this tour already and are tired so the quietly judging atmosphere of the audience might be a welcome break or it might be intimidating. It’s hard to tell what they make of it really. Starting with as much energy as they can muster, they look and sound like a seasoned indie-rock band. Singer Stephen Dove has killer cheekbones and cuts a similar figure to the Thin White Duke or even Jarvis Cocker due to his Northern accent, while lead guitarist, Leon, looks appropriately attired with striped top and thick rimmed glasses. Also in the Bella Union stable, their strongest tracks are the newest in the set, such as the experimental ‘Clouds’, though older ones like ‘200 Thousand Years Ago’ and the vastly repetitive ‘Hardly Strangers’ are more than danceable, the chanting vocals of the latter lending a 70s Iggy Pop feel to the occasion. Psychic Markers may be a bit lacklustre during this particular performance – perhaps due to the unexplained absence of their female member – but there remains something intriguing about their musical melting pot that is definitely worthy of attention when they’ve caught up on their beauty sleep.
There are a lot of people here at the top of the Rialto Theatre. It is oppressive compared to the cool autumnal night outside. Dry ice begins to fill the air as the lights dim and three men appear through the mist. “Don’t you think it’s already over?” Andrew Groves asks with just a tinge of sadness as the heavy synth of ‘Before Me (Over)’ lulls the chattering crowd into silence, all assembled acutely aware that, in fact, it is already over, or it will be soon anyway. This is Arcane Roots’ last ever show in Brighton following the announcement earlier this year that they are disbanding after their tour to focus on other things. Fierce backlighting outlines only their silhouettes, including sinewy collaborator, singer Emily Denton, who has joined them. Did this venue’s stairs lead to heaven? The ethereal and transcendental atmosphere charging the tiny room suggests this is likely.
Does every venue in Brighton have a glitterball? The Prince Albert’s twinkly, shiny sphere casts a lovely light over the intimate band room this evening, as The Grand Nowhere kick off. A Brighton-based quartet, bedecked in bad Hawaiian shirts, one of their singer/guitarists looks like a fairly awkward rabbit in the headlights, the other potentially thinks he is Jim Morrison – said shirt unbuttoned just enough to give a glimpse of a medallion amidst plenty of posturing. As different as the two men’s performance is, so too is their vocal style, a brash self-assuredness from Jim’s incarnation, the nervous guy punctuating his melodic voice with the right amount of falsetto and vibrato, a la Muse. I’m not sure if it works alongside the solid basslines and guitar-based songwriting that dominates their short set, though recent single ‘My Thoughts Again’ displays particular promise. Generally, though, it appears that they are really still finding out who they are as a group. I’m rooting for them to do so because they can pen a tune.
The theatrical glamour of the Duke of York’s Picturehouse is the perfect setting this evening. Eventually the curtains draw back on the screen as a short video begins, the photography and narrative telling a story about a girl who goes to China and doesn’t want to get married. The locals think she is weird and the Buddha turns her into a tree, where a man she fell in love with then rests under her branches. There was a bit more to it than that but, in a nutshell, the video sets the scene nicely for the show’s theme – that Emmy does things very much her own way, although she is guided a little bit by the universe too.