If you can overcome the natural misgivings that arise when you find a venue’s website is its Facebook page, then The Islington is a pleasant place to catch some live music. It’s a homely North London pub that has been scrubbed up nicely and comes with a music room that looks suspiciously like the dining room of a modest country home. Only don’t expect too much in the way of seating, other than a very few random chairs or bar stools. This small space, boasting a decent PA system and acoustics to match, was reasonably full tonight to host the pride of the North East, Bridie Jackson & The Arbour.
It was a classy line-up with support from troubadour Nathan Holme who spun some interesting looped guitar sounds to compliment his vocals and five-piece Feldspar who impressed with its engaging brand of folk-rock, clever lyrics and urbane chat. The band employs dynamics in a similar way to Mumford & Sons but such a comparison need go no further as Feldspar’s diversity is more pronounced (and there ain’t no banjo). A strong lead vocal and thoughtful, melodic bass lines were standouts in an accomplished set.
Red drapes and blue lighting seem to follow me around live venues in London. The Islington’s stage was lined with red silk and awash with illumination. At least there wasn’t a smoke machine this time. Indeed the air was as crystal clear as the sound waves when Glastonbury Emerging Talent 2013 winners, Bridie Jackson & The Arbour, took the stage. Opening with the enchanting “We Talked Again”, Jackson’s lead vocal cut through in shards over the soft chime of the band’s trademark bell plates, lush harmonies and cello heartbeat, perfectly blending melancholy with hope. The latest single, “Prolong”, continued this mood with plucked violin and cello adding drive to the quartet’s considered harmonies.
Yet all is not quite sweetness and light in the arbour. On songs like “Diminutive Man” and “Crying Beast”, Jackson employed a strong, soulful blues vocal to compliment bittersweet sentiments. Moments of high drama became further accentuated by driving strings and the pulse of percussion. As the set progressed, songs developed from hauntingly beautiful intros to rhythmic, full-bodied workouts as strings were plucked rather than bowed and the cello, in the expert hands of Jenny Nendick, became an acoustic bass.
Genial and self-deprecating on stage, the four girls displayed a disarming camaraderie between songs. “Promises Are Broken” was declared satirically as a contender for the UK Conservative Party 2014 anthem; a rumour of course quickly denied! Jackson went on to claim that “we write such miserable songs that we need to do covers” before launching a novel, stripped-down take on Pink Floyd’s “Fearless”, while later in the set, Justin Timberlake’s “Cry Me A River” was given the Jackson 4 treatment. It got an over-reverential audience veering towards some semblance of participation.
Highlights were plenty but peaked with the ethereal ballad “All You Love Is All You Are”, showcasing the band’s dazzling harmonies, and “Scarecrow”, a portentous lament for a tragic bride, dedicated to super-fan, “Paul – our stalker”. An outstanding set concluded with “Mucky” with Jackson channelling her inner Gabby Young on the skittish jazz number. The band sounds striking on record but has an extra dimension live; a tension born of fragility and an authority seated in sheer skill. The band may find a natural home in the intimacy of a small room like The Islington but will equally entrance audiences on a larger stage. These girls must tire of people saying how good they are yet I struggle to name a finer and more original act on the acoustic/folk circuit today.
We Talked Again
Promises Are Broken
Fearless (Pink Floyd cover)
Sandgate Dandling Song (Traditional)
Cry Me A River (Justin Timberlake cover)
All You Love Is All You Are