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FIFTY3 FRIDAYS: LIVE AT THE WAITING ROOM

The Waiting Room in downtown Stoke Newington holds a fond memory for me as the intimate space hosted the debut gig by a favourite act of mine, Paradisia, just over 8 years ago. If the name of the greatly missed trio does not ring with you, I’ve added a bonus track at the end of today’s missive. But on to the main menu now as we hark back one week to a special launch gig at the North London venue by Alexandra Leaving with Frankie Morrow supporting.

 

The Waiting Room sits in the basement of the contrastingly spacious Three Crowns pub in the High Street. It’s a modest space, one that allows you to get close up and personal with the bands who have to navigate a stage entrance via the crowd. The coarse wood panelling and single white tiled wall have been covered up by drapes since I was last here, misplacing a touch of quirkiness the place once had. A redeeming factor is the fine sound system; while loud for the size of room, you could hear all the instruments and vocals came across brightly.

Photos of Alexandra Leaving (top) + Frankie Morrow (above) by Kevin England

 

Tonight was an evening of reinvention with both acts shifting considerably from their earlier groundwork into much rockier terrain. Alexandra Leaving was here to launch her debut EP, An Exorcise in Anger, while support came from Scotland’s Frankie Morrow, equally offering a case of rebirth. The latter now appears as a four-piece led by singer-guitarist Maria McMillan aka Frankie with Neev – a fine solo artiste in her own right - on keyboards and backing vocals, James Smith on bass/bv’s and drummer Duncan Carswell. The fifth member, singer-guitarist Sam Nicholson, remains a collaborator but has taken a step back from the live side. Tonight, the band set off apace with the fiercely uptempo “Cruel”, a cathartic what-have-I-done-to-deserve-this workout, abrim with passion.



If the urgent “Cruel” was a tension-reliever, the next song, “Motorcycle”, provided a nice contrast neatly segued by a band introduction and a 4-count in. A kind of Big Country meets Sheryl Crow mashup, the number purred along like a veritable Harley. Throughout both opening songs Frankie’s lead vocal carried attack and depth and her guitar lines plenty of bite while Neev and James added some spirited harmonies, with the tight rhythm section and Neev’s keyboard embellishments creating a truly cohesive sound. Moving on to 2023 single, “Crave!”, you could detect a vestige of rhythms from traditional music within its rockier tones. A testimony of love and desire the song builds on a rock steady beat with cutting guitar, keyboard flourishes and three enthused vocals.



The set progressed with two new songs: “I Just Watch the Sunset” with a particularly crunching ending and the more bluesy, downbeat “Matrimony.” The final two, “A Sign of Promise” and “Sirens” sounded considerably different from the quieter, reflective versions you will find on Frankie Morrow’s 2022 debut EP, Blue Parrot Backpackers Hostel, and it will be interesting to see how they might be further developed should new studio recordings be forthcoming. At times the ‘new’ Frankie Morrow sounded like a completely new band and maybe there is room for a little more nuance in the set by reintroducing a touch of the indie-folk feel of its original sound to add light and shade to the live set. That said, everything tonight was warmly and unreservedly received by an approving audience.

Further reinvention was next to come in the shape of Shropshire native Alexandra Leaving and her fine band as she launched her debut EP, An Exorcise in Anger, to an ecstatic crowd nicely brought to simmering point by Frankie Morrow. Alex originally went under the name of Alex Jayne and her music had a more chilled indie lyricism in those days. Now London-based, as Alexandra Leaving, she has drawn inspiration from that Leonard Cohen song title rather than his musical style to usher in a new ID and a far rockier, uncompromising edge to her music. Fronting on guitar and lead vocals, she leads a brilliantly meshed band comprising lead guitarist Morgan Rickman, bassist Miles Hobbs and drummer Angus Mcintyre. Sartorially, all tonight were kitted out for a Blue Brothers meets school disco reunion!



The EP plays with the notion of ‘female rage’ and explores different aspects of anger from the righteous variety to a form of catharsis. Tonight’s opener, the fast-paced “Green Spell”, has a transatlantic feel with an infectious chorus and a touch of Haim about it while lead track from the EP, “These Scars”, sonically has a grungier edge live than on the record, lyrically supplanting bad times with a 'moving on' vibe. Alex’s considerable vocal range found true expression as she then switched from country-tinged tones on “Open The Space”, to the brooding rock riposte of the EP track, “Bite.”



A catchy riff heralded new song “Hey Stranger” while Alex’s cover of 4 Non Blondes’ “What’s Up” was, dare I say it, a notch up on the zillion-plays original. It was fast becoming a night when it was hard not to mention every song in the ten strong set as each had their stellar moments. As a diversion, Alex was having a battle to keep her in-ear monitor, well, in ear and this led to an impromptu short burst of the ‘Countdown’ theme by lead guitarist Morgan. The guitar player really starred on atmospheric EP track “Hardball” along with some dextrous bass from Miles and assured drumming throughout from Angus.



A fresh change of tempo arrived with the last of the four songs from the new EP, “Pretty Suspicious”, accompanied by a vocal from Alex that powerfully expelled pent-up emotions. There is a lyricism to both her writing and singing which really elevates her material, comparable though not identical to Nadia Sheikh. The trick is to keep elements of the singer-songwriter sensibility and apply them to broader indie rock territory. The set came to a close with a new tune, the riffy “Good Time Girl” followed by another ace in the pack in the shape of “Conversation Killer.” An encore was swiftly demanded and a reprise of “Bite” duly followed. “It will have to be one we have already played” Alex added coyly. You were left with the impression that Alex’s show would so easily translate to a big stage and if there is any justice the festival fields should be hers next summer.

Photos of Bat For Lashes by Jez Pennington, Banquet Records


To complete a second day of exceptional live music, I was fortunate enough to watch an intimate performance by Natasha Khan aka Bat For Lashes accompanied by the brilliant harpist, Lara Somogyi, at my local church of St John's. Natasha was there to celebrate the release of her new album, The Dream Of Delphi. The record is a pure celebration of motherhood and draws in the magical and ethereal threads that make her music so distinctive. Her daughter is named Delphi, after the Oracle to the Greek god Apollo. The set was short but nigh on perfect as Natasha delivered two songs from the album, two poems dedicated to her daughter, two back tracks including the exquisite “Lilies” and a touching closing segue of Springsteen’s classic “I'm on Fire” and “Nothing Compares 2 U”, the Prince song made famous of course by the late Sinead O’Connor.

Vocally, Natasha has such delicacy allied to a near operatic range; an inner power offering silkiness and strength hand in hand. The combination of her voice and Lara’s expressive harp simply transported you to a place of sheer serenity. Here is the new album’s title track followed by the beautiful “Lilies” from The Haunted Man. An extraordinary performance indeed.




Before you leave, I promised you a Paradisia track in the opening paragraph. The trio of Sophie-Rose (vocals), Anna (harp, vocals) and Kristy (vocals, keyboard) blended striking vocals and musicianship fused with enduring songwriting. Sadly they are no longer together, although Kristy has continued to carry a torch with her fine band, Silk Cinema. Paradisia’s beautifully deconstructed cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark” was the first thing that drew me to the erstwhile trio and today it sounds as fresh and arresting as ever.



Comments


FIFTY3 champions

outstanding new music

through Fifty3 Fridays and

occasional features 

 

Music is a great passion of mine. In my teenage years I was an avid record collector and concert goer. Stints as a booking agent, running folk clubs, promoting gigs and even a crack at artiste management followed. While it never became my main occupation, music was always on my personal radar.

 

In the past 15 years I have written for leading US music website  Consequence and breakthrough  site, BestNewBands. I am a judge for Glastonbury Festival's Emerging Talent Competition and have reviewed the festival for both sites. I am now pleased to curate my very own music site.

 

Nothing gives me greater pleasure than unearthing great, original new music and championing independent musicians. You’ll find many of them on this site alongside the occasional legend of times past and I hope they will bring  you as much joy as they give me.

Tony Hardy

UPCOMING GIGS 

 

Selected dates in the London area:

Tue 16 July: Griff, St John's Church, Kingston upon Thames

Wed 17 Jul: Squirrel Flower, The Lexington, London N1

Tue 23 July: Sabina Chantouria, The Bedford, Balham, London SW!`2

Wed 24 Jul: Coming Up Roses, The Social, London W1

Thu 1 Aug: 86TVs, St John's Church, Kingston upon Thames

banquetrecords.com: See the Events page for all live shows in Kingston

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