Novo Amor – The Haunt, Brighton – 20th October 2018

Photo by Iain Lauder

Operating very much under the radar, with minimal radio or media exposure, Ali Lacey is a new kind of artist. One who can sell out venues such as this, embark on a global world tour, release high quality music via his own channels, and make sophisticated looking videos on the cheap. Without much need for the traditional gatekeepers, he feels like a guilty fake at times. However, that’s probably because he’s a super-sensitive sort of guy, the antithesis of the decidedly knackered old school Britpop bombast of a Noel Gallagher, who grips more and more tightly on his precarious lofty perches, dispensing ‘wisdom’ and ‘truth’. He now sounds like a very old codger, living in the past. While Novo Amor – which appropriately enough means ‘New Love’ in Portuguese – is the sort of new man who would rather speak of his accumulated wisdom, in hushed, sincere tones, almost apologetically.

Indeed, Lacey is helping to shape a new perspective that is more concerned with male and female issues and vulnerabilities, global environmental concerns, and so on. For sure, it’s somewhat of an antidote, as any visit to the nauseatingly opinionated comments section of a newspaper will tell you, but there’s an eager audience out there for a more contemplative, meditative take on life’s escalating whirlwinds. Moreover, Lacey wraps all this up in comforting pearls of musical beauty, exemplified by his first ‘proper’ solo album, Birthplace. It is a record that works as a whole, with a sound that flows from the atmospherically ambient, and gentle acoustica, to horn-driven triumphalism. It’s a sound that majestically combines sadness with warmth. However, tonight, he’s happy to delve into his back catalogue as well as a healthy smattering of new ones, with highlights including the first track tonight – and off the new album – the arpeggio-guitar, and sad violin refrains of ‘Emigrate’, a song that bursts into life, mimicking his journey that concerns the migration of mind and spirit. Then there’s the scraping, ticking clock guitar and piano motif that informs the title track itself, the lament-driven, hard drug referring ‘Repeat Until Death’, the beautiful guitar and melody rich ‘Anchor’, and the gentle washes and waves of ‘Terraform’; a collaboration with Ed Tullett who is here tonight on guitar and vocals, part of five-strong band that also features drums, bass and violin. It’s a beautifully worked live sound, one of the best I’ve heard on a live stage for a while, testament I’m sure to his attention to detail, his great sound engineer, and the fact that he cares. Even the prices of the goods on offer at the merch desk are super sensible.

There’s also no fat on show here. All the songs are lean, tight affairs, that refuse to indulge in atmospheric whimsy, or over-wrought repetitiveness. The final song of the evening, ‘From Gold’, does the opposite of out-staying its welcome, the glistening arpeggio and warming vocal harmonies quickly evolving into a spine-tingling euphoric rush that is over all too soon.

Bedecked in a fisherman’s beanie – water is a prevalent theme of his videos – Lacey is the archetypal-looking, 21st century wood-burning shackman, but (thankfully) without the unruly beard. Except he’s Welsh, with a Portuguese stage name. As the very long queue of youthful punters at the end of the night looking to get their newly purchased wares signed by the man himself, testify, he’s nevertheless the real deal.

Jeff Hemmings