I listened, with shimmering eyes, this week to John Peel’s Desert Island Discs. Having worked with him, albeit fleetingly, on Radio 4’s Home Truths, it hit home, yet again, how much we lost when he died. He chatted in his usual self-effacing and gloriously articulate way about why discovering new music shouldn’t be something we hang up along with our impractical and trendy fashion sense as we reach for the slippers and cigars.
It is something that many of us, past our teens and twenties tend to find very difficult. I have a theory that embracing new bands is part of our desire to have someone, somewhere tell us who we are and what we believe when we are young. As we get older and our lives filled with money and jobs, careers, families, husbands, wives, partners and cats we have less time to devote. I’m convinced this is why so many love 6Music. It still represents that Peel inspired gateway of saying “Well, I know you like this so I thought you might also like this”. An aural amazon suggestions panel, if you will.
Last month, Lauren Laverne played a track by a North East band, Lanterns on the Lake. In an embracing of the digital landscape kind of way I mused that they reminded me of Air with a bit of Deloused at the Crematorium thrown in, found them on YouTube and emailed it to a few friends. The following month they would be playing in Liverpool as part of Liverpool Music Week at Leaf. What’s better it was free.
They were supported by the ethereal Laura James, Moguls – who feel like Kings of Leon had they grown up on Mather Avenue – and Terra Alpha who have some of the most wonderful harmonies I’ve heard.
Each musician that took to the stage was one in the trueist sense of the word. Laura James, stripped back, singer-songwriter with just a guitar and piano for accompaniment is well worth a look if you like an introspective ballad. A little abstract, perhaps, but her nervous tales about how she had received instruction on songwriting, only to start daydreaming about a river, so she wrote about that shows a passion for her craft.
Mogul, with their two front men Steve and Phil switch and swap their instruments. I’m jealous of those who can play just one. A band that exchanges a base for a piano like a performance version of musical chairs just has me dropping my jaw in awe.
Terra Alpha, who have an album on the horizon, I’m told, played a more acoustic set than they’re used to, but I’m tempted to tell them to embrace this version. Stunning harmonies, complete concentration and very good songs.
Yet all this felt like pre-amble. Would my investment in discovering a new band be repaid? Yes, yes a thousand times yes.
I’ve never seen a man play a Les Paul with a bow. I’ve never heard a Geordie sing with an American accent. I’ve never fallen in love quite that quickly before. Aural landscapes like Sigur Ros and Low might make you think you’ve heard all this before but this band’s ability to manipulate the mood in a room is quite astonishing. The crowd upstairs in Leaf was on the edge of their seat (if they were lucky enough to find one) swaying and swooning with the rising cadences and occasional frenetic beat mixed with soft lulling vocals. It is less a wall of sound and more an onion, built up over layers and layers creating a soundscape that is pure emotion. I’m sorry, flowery but I’m a woman in love, I know not what I do.
Folky and electronic, a sextet that jumbles and changes experimenting with noise and instruments. On paper this is something you would raise an eyebrow at but you do so at your peril. Discover them before the BBC do and they become ubiquitous played over cinemascopic landscapes.
And I kept thinking. Would John Peel have liked this band? Honestly, I have no idea at all. But he would have liked that there is music out there so beautiful it warms your soul.