The feature photo is credited to Circulation, and can be found originally here.
Wednesday 22nd November. First day of a new job in a warehouse after a night with a distinct lack of sleep. The aches and pains are intense for someone who’s spent the last two months lounging around the house doing as little as possible with their life. It was all I could do to muster what little energy I had left to travel to a wet and windy Birmingham. Cue one of the most holistic musical experiences I’ve ever had the fortune to witness, courtesy of Aldous Harding and her self-styled brand of gothic folk.
To fully appreciate an act who’s softly sung and subtly instrumented requires a crowd with two qualities. One; patience. Two; respect. Both were immediately apparent as Harding walked on to the stage, firstly to rapturous applause and cheers, and then as she began to play opening track ‘Swell Does The Skull’ the noise dropped to barely a whisper, the crowd hanging on each note, elongated lyric, and buzz of the lips. It’s a sign of her growing reputation in a year which has seen the release of her critically acclaimed sophomore album ‘Party’, which went in at number one on Rough Trade’s albums of the year list, and perform on a headline tour which sold out nearly every date. Indeed, the room tonight is jam packed full of a variety of different characters, of all different ages, come to see Harding perform an almost entire set of tracks from her latest album with commanding yet subtle theatricality. A fixed stare at a member of the crowd which lasts slightly longer than is comfortable; a defiant jut of the chin; a mystical swirl of the hands.
After another solo rendition, this time of the gorgeous guitar picked sound of ‘I’m So Sorry’, the backing band come out for the middle portion of the set. The band, consisting of the charismatic opening act Huw Evans (otherwise known as H. Hawkline who played a lovely stripped back set in his sister’s silk dressing gown this evening) on bass and backing vocals, and Invisible Familiars‘ Jared Samuel on keys, help perform some of Aldous Harding‘s most recognisable recent releases. An awe-inspiring version of ‘Blend’ begins this section, followed by stand-out ‘Imagining My Man’, a track which jolts the audience out of their ethereal trance with the pre-recorded backing cheers of “Hey!” and “Yes!” during the chorus. Title track ‘Party’, meanwhile, sees Harding fixate on an unhealthy and uneasy relationship, and channel Björk with some very high-pitched vocal melodies.
A new song in the form of ‘Weight Of The Planets’ is aired next, with wonderful rendition’s of ‘Living The Classics’ and ‘What If Birds Aren’t Singing They’re Screaming’ to round out the performance accompanied by her band. “Looks like it’s just you and me now.. You don’t like the band? Me neither” Harding says to the crowd with a wry smile across the face before ending the set with ‘The World Is Looking For You’, another gorgeous sounding song with Harding‘s picked guitar melting beautifully with her softly delivered voice. A short “Thank you” to the crowd, which explodes with cheering and clapping at the end, and she wanders off stage.
After a very brief break, Aldous Harding comes back to the stage for a short encore of one brand new song, ‘Pilot’. It’s a lovely way to end the show; a glimpse of the future (this track is on her next release), and a showcase of what makes Harding the next big thing in sparse folk music with its sparing piano chord progression and her fragile vocal performance. It leaves a lasting impression, a piercingly triumphant set that leaves me stunned for a number of minutes at the end until I can gain my composure again and trudge off in to the rainy Birmingham night once more.
To see such a beautifully nuanced set from a clearly talented writer and musician, in a venue which lends itself to intimacy, was a real joy, and one which will stay with me some time. If you’ve not yet had time to go and see her in concert, please make the effort as soon as you can. You may come out as spiritually healed as me too.