Slow Club Gig Review - The Lantern, Colston Hall - Saturday 28th May 2016
It is Bank Holiday Monday morning and as I write this, a cover of Future Islands’ ‘Seasons (Waiting on You)’ is playing on repeat on my laptop. “Seasons change and I try hard just to soften you.” It’s something about the rhythm of that line that keeps me returning to it. It might be how it forms a metrical palindrome in the way the stresses fall. I imagine a mirror, or pivot, between ‘try’ and ‘hard’, and a great blossoming from its centre, rather than from left to right. Its content adds emotion to its appeal, but its structure has a symmetry and simplicity that’s as pure and as honest as a blush. It is one of the most beautiful first lines in music and it is being sung by Rebecca Taylor of Slow Club.
The song is a tapestry rich with feeling that Slow Club delicately weave their own brand of richness through. The Future Islands original was the soundtrack to last June’s family trip to Gdansk in Poland and I am transported back there every time I hear it. My brother hears it from the living room and and sings along in a voice that is much better than mine. Almost a year on, this version has renewed my interest in the song, and I play it on repeat by way of apology, as a Slow Club fan, because before today I have never heard this version of it before. It reminds me of the time when a friend played Joanna Newsom’s ‘Flying a Kite’ to me for the first time. We were in our mid-twenties and on a long drive from Gloucester to Gosport to visit another school friend who had introduced us to her music. I had already seen Newsom perform in the open air of Somerset House and had gone some way towards accepting, if not fully understanding, the complexities of her magnum opus that is ‘Ys’, her second album, before the elusive ‘Flying a Kite’ reached me. It’s pre-Milk Eyed Mender Newsom – an ostensibly untrained, high-pitched voice that’s teeming with raw youth that’s hard to recreate - and it hit me like a sucker punch.
I last saw Slow Club in February 2015 at my beloved Gloucester Guildhall. I asked my good pal and blogger Simon if he wanted to come along and like the great gig buddy that he is, he obliged as rigorously as the Churchill dog on speed. On that night in February, Charles Watson and Rebecca Taylor were joined by drummer Avvon Chambers and Guillemots’ own Fyfe Dangerfield. Although the gig was very modestly attended, it was a revelation. I was struggling to come to terms with the poor turnout, but I knew how big and richly-textured the Slow Club sound was and I was excited on Simon’s behalf, knowing that he was about to hear their sound for the first time. They did not disappoint: the four-piece captured the enormity and intimacy of ‘Complete Surrender’, their incredible third album, in a way I could only dream of. Taylor’s vocals blew back the hair of her doting fans with one pitch-perfect performance after another, while Charles slowed down proceedings with the likes of ‘Paraguay and Panama’ and ‘Number One’, whose voice has evolved and matured as well as Rebecca’s. It ended with a fantastically mellow acoustic performance of ‘The Pieces’ that saw the whole band take to the audience floor and the duet sing together. It’s at around that time, as they stood only a few feet away from us, that Simon joined me in by falling in love with them. For at least four months after that gig, I didn’t listen to anything else but Slow Club. We’ve been talking about them ever since.
I was a little happier this time – we were amongst a capacity or near-capacity crowd in The Lantern, the oldest part of Bristol’s Colston Hall. In December, Simon had driven us to Wolverhampton see Courtney Barnett against rain so doggedly persistent that it made us think that it didn’t want us to get there. It hadn’t been an easy journey. Think Withnail and Marwood’s drive to Penrith and you’re along the right lines. Lashing rain, bone-chilling coldness, motorway closures and a speed camera all played a part, which resulted in a missing the support act, but Courtney Barnett put on a wonderful show and I left with a new favourite song. Although the weather has been rather changeable as of late, we got lucky on Saturday night. It offered up the perfect driving conditions – worthy of sunglasses at seven and warm enough for a t-shirt when we left the venue at eleven.
We stood in admiration for Charles and Rebecca. It was just the two of them this time, and they seemed much more at ease in front of a bigger audience and new songs in tow. Rebecca was still wearing her Sheffield Wednesday shirt from the playoff final earlier that day. Her team had lost to Hull and in doing so had failed to gain promotion to the top tier, but it didn’t seem to dampen her spirits. Quite the opposite in fact: they were both on fine form musically, and they both had a stake in the banter, although Rebecca was characteristically the chattier one. It occurred to me about half way through their performance just how strong these musicians had become in their own right. They are two forces of nature: both fiercely talented, both with a strong work ethic and both with enough confidence in their abilities to continue the climb to the peak. The number of outstanding songs they already have in their repertoire is remarkable. And I haven’t even spoken about the new one yet.
Oh, the new songs! Oh, the beautifulness of it all! The whole gig had a stripped-back feel to it and the sound of their new material was in keeping with that model. We were treated to half a dozen or so new numbers and they all clarified what we know so far: that Slow Club are a band intent on evolving. I don’t want to be the one to sink the adjective boat, but their new songs felt lush and hypnotic and otherworldly and they had a self-assurance about them. Most of the new material sounded as if they came from another land, and that may well be producer Matthew E. White’s American influence, or it may be the direction Slow Club chose themselves, or a combination of the two. I spoke to Charles at the merchandise stand afterwards and I told him how much enjoyed one of his songs. It was a solo number that seemed to roll along as easily as if it were taken on a breeze. It felt like a song completely at ease with itself and I was reminded of Villagers, or a Bob Dylan at his most contemplative. Even at the time I thought I was listening to a masterpiece. Unfortunately, the only lyric I remember from the song was something about Charles referring to himself as being a first-rate karaoke singer, and can’t even be sure of that. I can’t remember anything else about it, or about any of the other songs, but they have a good vibe about them, and they sound either as good or better than Slow Club have released up until now. Charles was kind enough to sign my ticket and Rebecca signed it as well, but I was much too shy and sober to talk to her. I can talk to writers and poets, but famous singers, even semi-famous singers, carry more significance, and Rebecca holds too many important songs in her lungs for me to consider her completely normal, even though I know she is normal, albeit a special kind of normal. Perhaps one day she might employ me to repoint her house, or build her a wall. And then we’ll be able to chat.
‘Ancient Rolling Sea’ is the first song to be taken from Slow Club’s forthcoming fourth album, released in August.