The discussions in the Brude tonight loosely revolve around two things; “Have you ever seen her before?” and “Will Garvey make an appearance?” These two questions could characterise the two demographics in the room – those who have known of Jesca Hoop’s work for a while now and those who have discovered her recently via her collaboration with Elbow’s Guy Garvey on ‘Murder of Birds’.
Being very much a member of the latter, I’m interested to see what sort of a show it will be. I am pondering this still when Sam Barrett clambers onto the stage, straps on an old twelve-string guitar and introduces some true 1970’s-Ronnie Wood-style country sounds to our world.
Cruising through high-speed and accurate melodies on the fret board whilst threading a convincing faux-southern states twang through soulful vocals, Barrett is able to paint a picture in your head of a hazy, summer afternoon spent being busy doing nothing on an Alabama front porch in the blink of an eye. A more confederate version of The Tallest Man on Earth, less Dylan, more Skynyrd but stopping for a drink with Rod Stewart, he draws you into to each song – sections where the bass notes give way to high-end slide licks seem to zoom in on a man and a guitar playing in the privacy of his living room before the fuller sounds return and it’s a public show again.
Telling tales of women and skateboarding, this Northern Englishman (“from just up the road”) with a Southern American soul plucks and warbles his way through his half hour, barely a minute of which goes by without somebody at the bar praising his work to the bar staff who seem equally impressed.
The image of him packing up and lugging his gear off through the back of the stage only serves to add to his folk-musician-trying-to-make-it persona which seems to have charmed the room. Just a man and his guitar; he had nothing but he had everything.
The charm offensive of this evening’s performances is about to be escalated to insurmountable levels. Jesca Hoop, having somewhat timidly made her entrance and taken up her position at the microphone, waits for the music over the P.A. to be turned down then begins the soft staccato guitar that features heavily throughout her catalogue. Where once there was expectant chattering from the audience, now there is only complete, transfixed silence.
Her vocal range is staggering – delicately delivered notes stretch out into the stratosphere with no hint of wobble or breakage – and the tone of her voice is like being in bed. It is all pretty spell-binding stuff; gentle and enchanting.
In between songs there is plenty of talk from the stage – even if it is barely audible, practically a whisper – which is both funny and personable in equal measure. By the start of the second song in her set I doubt there is anyone who isn’t starting to fall just a little bit in love with the other worldly creature before them that will go on to effortlessly keep hold of their attention all evening. It is nigh on impossible to allow your senses to go anywhere else other than the few square feet she occupies.
There is a brief and very slight holding of a collective breath as Hoop introduces ‘Murder of Birds’ and mentions her Elbow connection but it is quickly obvious that no help will be received on stage tonight; so with the Garvey rumours dispelled finally, the path is left clear for the rest of the show to dazzle and gather us up on its own merit.
The songs tonight are all stripped down versions of themselves – “as they were written” – relatively simple little tunes which allow the bare, honest lyrics to roll and twist, painting intricate and personal pictures over the top of them. There is plenty of quirkiness and plenty of substantially epic waves of melody interwoven with moments when Hoop herself drifts off to wherever she was when she was composing it all.
In terms of technical performance it is far from a perfect show; several times during the evening Hoop forgets parts of her songs, or loses track of where she is and goes back round for another pass, but always with a calm reassurance that confirms to us all that it’s not really a big deal and we’re here to indulge in an artist’s ability to create an ethereal landscape to lose ourselves in rather than to watch somebody make it from A to B via the most economical route. We are safe under the protection of her soft, Californian drawl.
Eventually the tragically inevitable arrives – the last song – and with its announcement come noises of disappointment and pleading from the audience before they are reminded of the encore that is still to come “…it’s ok, tradition is on our side!”
The end of the show is an emotional affair with the final song thinning the mascara of one or two people in the crowd as well as Hoop herself, but I imagine even those who don’t end up shedding a tear have at least a twinge of sadness that this evening is over.
(Photo Copyright Aga Debiec)