The feeling of the entire show hung on a precipice. “You all look like Ed Sheeran fans, that’s obviously our demographic” muttered Sarah Howells, aka Bryde, at an early point in the show. Whether it was said in jest or not, an awkward silence descends on the Komedia studio as those in the crowd look at each other in confusion. On a night where an unfortunate venue clash sees the hugely popular Mara Simpson perform a special show in the main room, it is painfully apparent that ticket sales for Bryde, despite her being fresh off the back of a superb debut album Like An Island, have suffered in comparison. Thankfully, any downturn in mood is shrugged off and we are still treated to a strong and powerful performance.
Before Bryde, there is a fun and impressive support from the Isle of Wight’s Lauran Hibberd on a solo spot (she normally tours with a band). Bubbly pop melodies and a simple fuzzy guitar sound are misleading, for underneath the simplicity, there is a talented, and clearly intelligent songwriter. With songs of high school life and the hinterland between adulthood and adolescence, Hibberd is a star in the making for definite. With a hilarious, winning stage personality aligned to an impeccable voice and performances like these, she is destined for the big time without a doubt.
Bryde arrive on stage, and break into early tracks ‘Wouldn’t That Make You Feel Good?’ and ‘Honey’ from 2016’s EP 2. Instantly setting a captivating mood, the opener displays that Howells is more than a little reminiscent of Angel Olsen and even the great PJ Harvey in both voice and atmosphere. With her band amping up the volume at points behind her, it is a rocking start to the night that serves as a warning for the peaks and troughs to come. As on Like An Island, the show swings from hard-edged rock to emotional ballads with blues, post-punk and folk all mixed in between. ‘Handstands’ takes a blues aspect as a starting point, with Howells’ soulful voice taking it in surprising new directions.
‘Wait’, the first song Howells ever wrote, is stripped back just to her powerful voice and simple guitar. It seems to suck all of the air out of the room, creating an emotionally powerful mood before ‘Flesh, Blood and Love’ turns the volume dial up once more. As the night progresses, it seems that the Ed Sheeran jibe is just an example of a dry sense of humour – with tour life anecdotes of watching drunken brawls in Travelodge car parks, as well as a shout out to those who bought the record. “Who bought it from Resident?” she asks, with one affirmation from the crowd. “Where are the other four of you then?” she laughs. With that, the band then take off through the remainder of Like An Island at a fierce pace – the tempo forever rising and dipping like a boat on a tempestuous sea, always in control but with every moment of calm awaiting the next wave.
Racing through the closing tracks, ‘To Be Brave’ and the magnificent ‘Less’ merging into one continuous piece, Bryde exit the stage with no encore, leaving the crowd momentarily puzzled as to whether they will return – to no avail. It feels like a suitably spiky and jagged ending to the show, a moment that was perfectly in tune with the mood of the album itself.