FIFTY3 FRIDAYS: NOT QUITE HALLOWEEN
So, inspired by today’s opening song I had this idea to link this week’s featured artistes to Halloween. Like most of my ideas this wasn’t quite followed through and indeed the light in your Jack-o’-lantern might even get extinguished now and again. Anyhow I usually hide behind an arras with my Harry Potter on All Hallows Eve as my wife and daughter are far better equipped to hand out the mini choc bars.
I often wonder though. Trick or treat? I mean, who asks for a trick? If you are the sort of person who confidently barks ‘take the next right’ when of course you mean left, you might just come to the door and blurt out ‘trick’ in response to the age-old question posed by the junior cosplayers gathered outside. As one with little sense of direction, I’ll stay behind the arras and hope no one turns up dressed as Hamlet. Hocus-pocus aside, let’s now bedevil you with something suitably phantasmagorical.
Photo of Hannah Rose Platt by John Morgan
We start with a seasonally appropriate offering from Bristol-based singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and storyteller, Hannah Rose Platt. Hopefully you will recall that earlier this year we focused on her exceptional album, Deathbed Confessions, in which she explored a diverse yet deftly linked set of themes from the darkly human to the supernatural and the utterly bizarre. Her imaginative work is matched by an expressive vocal range, helping her to fully embrace the character of individual song. For a refresher, you can read her track-by-track reflections here. Hannah has now made a quick return with a ghostly new EP, Hypnagogia, suitably in time for Halloween.
The acoustic-driven rhythms of “Mara” carry an urgency underpinning the desire to escape the horrors hemmed in by dreams while Hannah’s vocals alternate from a glistening menace to a virtuous pleading. Each offering on the 8-track collection has been directly inspired by the ghost stories and folklore of each city stopover on her current tour of Scandinavia with Frank Turner. Produced by Ed Harcourt, the EP comprises four songs backed by four spoken-word interludes narrated by leading British actor David Morrissey, “acting as our very own Vincent Price” in Hannah’s words. In an auditory horror show, the songs conjure tales of nightmare demonesses (“Mara”), monsters lurking in the deep (“Beast In The Water”), the goddess of decay off for a night on the town (“Date Night”) and terrifying illuminations luring loved ones into the forest (“Blue Lights”). Late night listening for the strong in heart.
All photos of Sarah Klang and Baby Smith at Oslo by Kevin England
I was very pleased to be able to review the gifted Swedish songstress with the onomatopoeic surname, Sarah Klang, on her last visit to these shores when she appeared at West London’s Bush Hall in March 2022. Since then, she has left behind her twenties and embraced motherhood, naming her new album out this week, Mercedes, after her newly born child. Last night she was back in London for the first time in eighteen months, this time in the East at the smart venue they call Oslo which is nothing to do with Norway but rather is anchored to Hackney Central station.
Before we get to Sarah Klang’s set, it is time for a moment in the sun for tonight’s support act, Baby Smith. [Sun? Halloween?? – Ed] The band features native Australians, lead singer/guitarist Saxon Gable and bassist/vocalist Ray Sonder, accompanied this evening by a keyboard player and drummer. Saxon and Ray recently moved to London after several years in Berlin where they were founding members of People Club. Together they create music that is hard to pigeonhole; indie pop with a dash of dance about it and an art-pop dreaminess that comes from Saxon’s ultra-high register voice and Ray’s subtle harmonies. Their 7-song set sounded fresh and innovative; a notable ability was to morph a gentle sounding piece into an accelerated, energetic instrumental jam. They finished with this one, “Trouble” which crystallised Baby Smith’s novel style, although live the amplified ending really got quite funky. A new band to watch in both senses.
There was a fair crowd in for Baby Smith but when Sarah Klang took the stage the room was rammed and held so much love for her from the beaming faces as she opened powerfully with “Magic Stone” from her new album Mercedes. There was scarcely a pause as Sarah and her polished 4-piece band moved on to another new cut, “Burger” and wrapped that with a feverish “Left Me on Fire” from her 2018 debut album, Love in the Milky Way.
Barefoot and dressed in a multi-tiered overdress - which she later dispensed with - atop a gingham bodice and long skirt, Sarah was your favourite good fairy godmother dispensing wit and wisdom as she announced the splendidly resonant “Fever Dream”, again a set highlight for me. This took us to the bruised tones of “Halloween Costume” [Hurrah! – Ed], a candid throwback to an unhappy period in her life exorcised by the duality of the repeated line “When I get out of here / I'll be a mad woman”, which was enthusiastically sung back by the crowd.
The great rapport between artiste and crowd continued in between songs as Sarah ran from the Fleetwood Mac vibe of “Ghost Killer” to a series of songs from Mercedes, including the title track, a mid-tempo rocker dedicated to her baby girl. Of these, the crowd seemed to know all the words to the energetic “Belly Shots” while the gospel blues tones of “Hospital Window” provided a timely contrast in mood. Sarah’s songs are grounded in personal experiences yet are consistently highly relatable. She spoke about her Dad with an open affection to introduce “Endless Sadness” and “Scorpio” with her sentiments warmly embraced. Powered by Sarah Klang’s formidable vibrato and operatic flourishes, the set reached a natural peak with the anthemic ballad, “Anywhere”; her muscular, soulful vocal complimented by a ringing, repeated guitar motif.
The crowd was going nowhere so three encores followed, culminating with the pure vocal tour de force of “Demons” where operatic heights were reached and conquered. It was a fitting end to an expansive evening of live music at its finest. But I’ll leave you with the first of those encores - “Worst Mum”, the bittersweet latest single from the new album; a song which charts the highs and lows of early motherhood and underlines quite how open and relatable Sarah Klang’s songwriting can be.
Photo of Venus Grrrls by Misha Warren
Any more Halloween then? Oh, alright go on. Hot off the press is the latest single from Leeds alt-rock five-piece Venus Grrrls entitled “Hex” which appropriately is being cast on Halloween itself. With this latest song, the band continues its championing of empowerment in the face of bad experiences, describing the track as 'an ode to womenkind'. Driven by a negative incident Venus Grrrls shared, “Hex” inspires victims of harassment to reclaim their power and urges perpetrators to face up to their actions. As ever with this band, the message is delivered with raucous passion yet great musicality. Just don’t ask for the trick if they come knocking.