‘An Evening with…’ promised a night of closely-carried storytelling and meaningful connection, for fans of music that is of a quieter constitution. The superb billing offers a chance to witness a new wave of songwriting talent; four artists who each exhibit profound invigoration of style and a furore for performing live. Taking over Manchester’s famed Band on the Wall, we ventured forth with high hopes for an unforgettable experience.
Bristol-based Fenne Lily, the seedling of the group, carries a gentle, engrossing capability – resting in between middle voice and a higher register, the powers of her captivation really do leave a listener hanging on every word. Paul Thomas Saunders, already a veteran in the game, supplies a refreshing vigour of folktronica and leads early in the billing with takings of new material from a forthcoming second album. Siv Jakobsen shares lyrical prowess telling stories of the personal kind, set to glacial but ever-warm soundscapes. Sivu, a musician with proven validity, airs a range of music from both of his two studio albums – owning an evocative and othering sense of expression in a multitude of amazing ways.
Switching throughout from electric to acoustic guitar, Fenne Lily employs subtle versatility in a set that mostly consists of weary melancholy. Opening with the hushed melodics of ‘What’s Good,’ it’s a thrilling start to the thirty minute run. Lily’s often dry sense of humour offsets her casual on-stage persona, allowing a lighter atmosphere to enter the present and dampen the mood of irrevocable sadness, which the songs so satisfyingly provide – it’s probably one of the dualities we enjoy the most. The further two singles are presented effervescently: ‘Bud’ offers up a more upbeat rhythm to the others, while ‘Top to Toe’ discusses family life over a meandering chord structure. Lily leaves on the poignant note, “I hope you enjoy this, more than I enjoyed being 15.” Across the performance, Lily proves her talent and worth; with undefeated might, she conquers challenging emotional dilemmas through turning them into heart-stricken confidences of triumph over adversity. It’s surely moving.
Walking onto stage, Paul Thomas Saunders confides: “I really wanted to run out and say ‘Hello Wembley’,” this immediately urges a light-hearted response to the opening of the set. There’s an irresistible melancholy to Saunders’ voice, a weight hangs on his cadences, one of real emotive sincerity – like a softly compelling lure that keeps and keeps on giving. Sharing a bunch of new tracks alongside the odd older song, Saunders does test the audience with a set list of this calibre, but worry not, the considered plan works a treat. ‘Holding On For Love’ gifts nuanced texture and a softer caress. True to Saunders’ writing style, the song feels expansive and otherworldly before building to a mesmerising close, and remains one of those utterly stunning moments that you are unlikely to forget. The group camaraderie comes out with Saunders’ final song, ‘Bloodlust,’ where Fenne, Sivu and Siv join on stage with their guest harmonies. It’s an enchanting and hopeful end that lingers on the line: “I’ll be your spaceman, and I’ll take you out of here.”
Embracing the intimacy of the night, Siv Jakobsen kindly asks the audience to shuffle closer before opening with the astute calm of ‘To Leave You’. The set takes in a large amount of Jakobsen’s recently-released debut album, ‘The Nordic Mellow,’ and is nonetheless affecting. Her voice is at once frailing and gossamer, as it is engaging and bewitching – her vocals are precise and distinct, they lead pathways into a world of her crafting; one of the personal yet the lyrics allow just enough for communal interpretation. Jakobsen appears very natural on stage; owning an innate relatability and friendly demeanour, it’s hard not to resonate with her openness. The songs speak of human relationships, blazing personal victories, and the wonders in experiencing the new. Once again, another performance closes with a joining of the four, the song of choice this time is ‘Like I Used To’ – choir-like backing centres Jakobsen’s most sing-along chorus for a thrilling rendition.
As the last act of the evening, the pressure rests on Sivu to bring home an equally rousing thirty minutes of performance – which is seemingly achieved quite effortlessly. James Page, the man behind the nom de plume, arrives with a timely burst of confidence – a fervour which uplifts the room considerably. Songs taken from his recent album ‘Sweet Sweet Silent’ are paraded with glorious passion; ‘Lonesome’ writhes and wriggles around turns of voice, ‘My Moon River’ offers a personal anecdote alongside a romanced clarity, whilst earlier works like ‘Better Man Than He’ and ‘Bodies’ revisit the sculptured vocals we love so much. The latter is given a feverous rendition, as furious strums and voluminous emotion meet into a sharp sing-along chorus. The songs on display tonight hold a proud tenderness – a sort of calming intensity that fuels each vocal line and each lyric. Closing with a new song named ‘Four Leaf Clover Love,’ Page invites a glimpse into the new – and it sounds like a keeper.
By far, this was a night of celebration – of each solo performer and their collective purpose. Each maintains their own captivation, with vocal styles that evoke their truest selves, and original music that transports a listener elsewhere. More than anything, though, it’s just great to see a group of like-minded musicians honouring each other and supporting a common objective.
‘An Evening with’ tour will continue through to 12th October 2017, culminating at London’s Cecil Sharp House.