There are several things we Brits love in life, and a Bank Holiday weekend is absolutely among the highest-ranking. The prospect of an extra day away from the toils, trials and tribulations of our daily grind in jobs we’re forced to go to in order to sustain life really lifts the spirits. Marry that to the weather bathing us in the unusually-early summer-esque haze of sunshine and warmth, and you’ve the quintessential recipe for a happy Brit. Add a couple of beers and an evening with songwriting maestros Pat Dam Smyth and Blackfield, and the discerning music aficionado will be waxing lyrical on the perfect start to a three-day weekend.
A solitary singer-songwriter taking the stage alone amongst a room full of people (especially as a support act) could be forgiven for demonstrating a few nerves. A bum note here, an off-key chord there – all perfectly acceptable until you find your groove. Yet if there were any pre-game nerves from Northern Ireland’s Pat Dam Smyth, then the man was a master at hiding them. There he was, all one man and a guitar before a crowd of quietly expectant music fans, and he set about his task with admirable verve.[metalwani_content_ad]
Introducing cuts from his forthcoming album ‘Kids’ such as “Last King” and the refreshing single “Juliette” would seem like a bold move from the Northern Irishman. Yet it played out really rather well. The man clearly has a knack for writing simple, honest-to-God songs with a strong narrative woven masterfully into each song’s fabric. Even when the set features rather heavy rotation of new, upcoming material, it still enraptured the audience.
There’s a rather quaint warmth about Smyth. There’s no delusions of grandeur as he set about reeling off his setlist and he sets to it with the minimum of chit-chat between songs. But where he himself brings warmth, the absence of his usual band and subsequent substitution for a drum machine quickly leaves a slight chill. Where songs like “Blue Lights” excel with their stripped-back acoustic sound, the clean guitars atop a drum machine tick fall really rather flat. It’s rather disappointing as one gets the impression a full-on band sound will make these songs sound as grand as the stories they tell. Pleasant enough, but being robbed of the full band means fans of Pat Dam Smyth will have to wait for the “Juliette” single release party later this year.
There’s a fevered excitement for Aviv Geffen. The fact that he performs under the Blackfield name, his collaboration with Porcupine Tree mastermind Steven Wilson, adds an extra dimension to the throng in the room. Considering the intimacy of the venue and turnout, it was an especially tangible feeling, pulsating around all four walls of the Hall and pushing spirits ever higher. It wasn’t packed-to-bursting by any means, but there’s a certain degree of warmth that spread itself through the gathered masses. It almost had the feel of a private function, only available to a select few, but those that bore witness to the evening’s ministrations were to enjoy an enthralling night of entertainment.
When Geffen and his men take the stage, it’s to a rapturous welcome as they chime into “Faking” with aplomb. Theirs is arguably a low-key brand of rock; not a brash, raucous affair but rather a more subtle, gentle caress of the ears. It’s most apparent in set highlight “DNA”, with delicate, emotionally-charged melodies drenching the crowd in audible syrup, making for an almost-euphoric moment in a well-constructed set.
In what seemed to be thematic of the evening, Blackfield’s music is an earnest form of artistry and it showed in the heartbreaking “Blood”. With the UK reeling from the recent tragedy in Manchester, there’s a remarkable sense of togetherness within the room. This unity certainly wasn’t lost on the crowd upon the band’s revealing that Manchester was the previous night’s stop and the dedication of the song to those who lost their lives. The applause was deafening and the song fitting – it’s a sensitive issue and could be a risky move, but Blackfield provided a fitting tribute.
What followed was a fine performance that befitted the intimate setting; ably performed and well-received. It would be hard-pressed to define it as a stratospheric, bring-the-house-down performance given the band’s very natural demeanour and stoic presence, but that’s fine. Theirs isn’t the type to blow the doors off as this sort of music is there to be enjoyed, appreciated and experienced over anything else. Then Steven Wilson happened.
The man of Porcupine Tree fame and prog darling/god has been a part of the Blackfield name since its inception. His upsurge in solo work (and subsequent recognition/adoration) has seen his attention divided a little more, yet there he was, flanking his friend on stage and completely surprising the crowd. The roar that greeted him was bigger than anything else on the night, and the subsequent trio of songs were lapped up like last orders in the pub. He may have graced the stage thrice, but it was “Once” that simply sparkled amid the humidity. It’s just a shame that it was but a brief cameo (but then it wouldn’t be quite so special, would it?)[metalwani_content_ad]
It’s but another fine contribution to a performance that is poised, balanced and steeped in light and shade. Each song feels meticulously written and focused; no fat is left to trim, no ingredient unnecessarily added. As a result, the band’s show whizzes by in an enjoyable haze akin to the delightful weather outside. It culminated in the uplifting “Cloudy Now” (please no, we like the sun), with the crowd singing along in full voice much to the delight of Geffen. It took a while for a little singing, but that was one way to round off the night.
What the Islington Assembly Hall, arguably, lacks in size, it more than makes up for in character. It’s a delightful venue, and the intimacy that it provided the evening’s songwriting heroes was always going to benefit them. Pat Dam Smyth’s songwriting stood out, despite the absence of a full band sound, whilst Blackfield delivered the goods we were all expecting. The equivalent of a cool, gratifying drink with friends in the summer sun.