FIFTY3 FRIDAYS: LIVE AT THE BEDFORD
Last Thursday found me in the comfortably familiar surroundings of that fine hub of new live music in London, The Bedford at Balham. With the admirable support of the venue’s fervent host, Tony Moore, and ace sound engineer, Richard Hunt, I had the pleasure of curating another evening in its delightful Club Room featuring three acts whose excellent music has graced these columns previously, Barbara, Blánid and Detweiler. The success of the evening was testament to how three quite disparate acts can complement each other’s offering and hold an audience’s attention for the entire show.
First up were Hartlepool native siblings David and Marianne Holt, aka Detweiler. Now based in London, the synth-pop pairing’s live appearances are often augmented by other musicians. Tonight though, aided by backing tracks, David’s guitar and their two voices that gel together particularly well, they successfully reproduced much of their sound on record as a twosome. The set is bright and energetic, laced with indie, psych-pop, electronica and dance influences, while compelling you to move to it. Lyrically the songs are thoughtful, somehow welding often downbeat themes to mostly upbeat soundtracks. The stage seemed unbalanced with both performers bunched to the right but the space to the left was there for dancers, Scarlet and Andrew, who were introduced when Marianne led “Sound of the Underground”, an unexpected Girls Aloud cover with elements of a spaghetti western about David’s guitar accompaniment.
Dedicating the opening song “Shan Tale” to his friend Lewis Boyd-Hill whose birthday was today and who “we lost last year”, David broke into a nervous laugh, perhaps to defuse the natural emotion of the moment. The song predates his friend’s demise though the words around love’s abnormalities seemed timely; shan being a dialect word for unfair or harsh. Detweiler’s original material cut through with the New Order-ish “Dunno” and an oddly euphoric “Alpha Man”, given that it foresees humanity’s destruction, both standing out. Euphoria fully kicked in with the closing song, “Passionista”, which, as well as being the name of a smoothie Marianne shared with her girlfriend on their first date in a Birmingham falafel shop, explores credible fears about your sexuality and doubles as a love story. What a tune it is too.
Originally from Northern Ireland and now another London-based artiste, Blánid should come with a good health warning. Although she openly trades in sad songs, her voice is so lovely and therapeutic it should be available on prescription. Tonight, at The Bedford she flitted effortlessly between graceful finger-picked guitar and keyboards, delivering seven original songs each with its own character and story to tell. Her compelling opener, “Mustang Girl”, was preceded by a little confession that before writing the song she had only just been told that a mustang was a horse and not just a car. A song about wishing to be free, it had the hallmark of an old-time prairie classic and the way her voice soared in the first chorus drew audible gasps from the audience.
The wish to escape something was a common theme in the set. In the style of a traditional Irish ballad underpinned by a pared down piano accompaniment, “Deliver Me” was vocally stunning while the lockdown-inspired “Summer Days” took on a cinematic feel with its lush, orchestral keyboard effects filling out another quietly impassioned tale. Each song was introduced with just enough scene setting so, for example, we learned that her unusual take on a relationship gone wrong, “Dead Men Dancing”, was inspired by the image of two dead men waltzing outside a spacecraft in the 80’s comedy film, Airplane 2. From the dark bluesy vibe of “Resurrection” to an apt closing lament, “The Actor”, everything was hallmarked by her remarkable voice. If I had to pick a stand out it would be her bittersweet tale of unrequited love, “Fool’s Gold”. Blánid appropriately means little flower in Gaelic and hers is a fresh talent that is already blooming.
The unusual circular Club Room at The Bedford, bordered above by a narrow balcony, has the feel of an intimate theatre space and fittingly the evening ended with a theatrical show delivered by Brighton’s Barbara with impressive panache. Brothers, Henry (keyboards and vocals) and John Tydeman (lead vocal) were flanked by three adept band mates contributing rich bass and harmonies, crisp percussion and lyrical bursts of lead guitar. Barbara takes its cues a shared love of 60s and 70s music and styling. Comparisons with early Queen and the likes of 10cc, Sailor, Pilot and Sparks are easy to draw but also pertinent as there is plenty of evidence in the band’s repertoire that they could reach such heights. Visually John and Henry are not quite Russell and Ron (the Mael brothers from Sparks) but they may share tailors and certainly a flair for creating fascinating, episodic songs in the style of mini operas.
Opening with something of a political satire in “Waiting Outside Alone”, the band introduced some material new to me which invariably hit home on first hearing along with its three single releases of 2021. We were treated to the rich melodic progressions of “These New Communications”, a song that intelligently deals with the downside of social media and the internet yet doesn’t stop you wanting to dance along to it. A relaxed “Rainy Days in June” recalled summer holidays and a simpler, de-stressed lifestyle with just a good book for company. The set closed with the first single the band released just over a year ago, “BRB”. Its musical dressing reflects the way over time that the future is often imagined in the present; an AI inspired story charged with stabbed piano chords, charming harmonies, melodic twists and punchy rhythms before it all dissolves into an unexpected singalong coda. It was an inspired closer to a stimulating evening of live music.
Photos of Barbara, Blánid and Detweiler all by Kevin England
Now then, you can watch the entire show on The Bedford’s YouTube channel. The first video kicks off a minute and a half in with Tony Moore’s legendary introductions after which Detweiler take the stage. Blánid's set starts around 49 mins in. You will note though that the show ends prematurely as Blánid finishes her penultimate song when The Bedford's internet connection went down briefly. It was quickly reset and you can watch the remainder of the show including Barbara's storming headline set on the second video. Her final song is at the start of video 2 and Barbara’s begins 20 mins in.