- by Andy Brown Release Date: Label:
You can’t really offer higher praise then to say that a performer sent you home considerably happier than you were on arrival. As if it wasn’t enough that Jesca Hoop was an insanely talented songwriter and performer with a knack for combining musical styles in a fun and naturalistic way, she’s also genuinely hilarious. Tonight’s between song banter proving to be significantly more entertaining than half the stuff that makes it onto Live at the Apollo.
Tonight’s support comes from the Wakefield based singer-songwriter Oliver Pinder. The songs are stripped-back and melancholic, Pinder’s gentle voice and folky guitar stylings accompanied by the subtle and well-placed contributions of a cellist. The audience are respectfully quiet throughout, with Pinder noting that it’s almost as if he was playing in his bedroom. Yet he isn’t at home, he’s sixteen years old and already supporting Jesca Hoop.
I’ll admit, it takes me a little while to really get into tonight’s set yet the songs and Pinder’s shy, unassuming stage manner manage to win me round. The sparse, gloomy balladry of ‘Fools’ finds him switching to piano, his emotive vocals taking centre stage within the songs skeletal structure. As he says, “if you can’t have sad songs on a Tuesday, when can you?”
There’s a break in the sadness for an unexpected song about Brexit that proves to be an angry, funny and wonderfully expletive filled highlight. His confidence seems to grow throughout the set, culminating in a trip off stage to sing amongst the audience. And looking at tonight’s performance, it’s clear that Pinder has every reason to be confident.
Jesca Hoop takes to the stage dressed in a flowing dress-come-ceremonial robe and looks to all intents and purposes like she’s been beamed down as some kind of rock ‘n’ roll deity. If you told me she came from the same planet as Sun Ra and the B52s I’d have to believe you. It’s clear from the outset that we’re in the presence of a unique and ridiculously gifted performer; Hoop couldn’t be run-of-the-mill or mundane if she tried.
The set begins with the slow-burning beauty of ‘Songs of Old’, a tender folk song that sings of “endless hopes and endless fears”. It reminds me a little of the wonderful Alela Diane. Hoop and her band are brilliantly versatile though and it isn’t long before we’re into the groove-led and lyrically witty delights of ‘Animal Kingdom Chaotic’ with its group chant of “I just work here/ computer says no”. We’re only a few songs in and I’m utterly sold, the songs are varied, heartfelt and idiosyncratic while the performance itself is emboldened by Hoops natural charisma.
She shares a number of anecdotes with us throughout the show, the best among them involving Guy Garvey and Elbow. Hoop explains how her fondness for red wine and curiosity about British colloquialisms led to someone from the band telling her that “having the painters in” was slang for drinking vino. She apparently got some fairly odd looks backstage when putting this new found slang into action. Its humour like this that makes the whole experience all the more intimate, with anecdotes recalled in a way that feel like a friend sharing an embarrassing story.
Most of tonight’s songs are taken from Hoops latest LP, Memories are Now and sound all the more powerful in their live incarnations. The heartbroken yet defiant ‘The Lost Sky’ takes on a new urgency live, the songs mantra-like verse becoming quietly hypnotic. The title track itself is quite easily the most life-affirming song I’ve heard in some time. There’s strength in these songs, a sense of coming through the hard times and feeling all the better for it. It’s an album and performance that feels very much about living in the here and now.
Hoop moves effortlessly from the spine-tingling rock of ‘Peacemaker’ (a song about female empowerment and sexual abstinence) through to a stark, breath-taking solo rendition ‘The Coming’. We’re even given a murder ballad or two with Hoop commenting that there’s something “warm and cosy” about them. All this and I still haven’t come close to describing how joyous and captivating tonight’s performance really was. Everything is delivered with hope, humour and humanity. You really couldn’t ask for more.