13th October | Church of St. John On The Wall
Photos: Thom Wood
Music and sacred spaces have always been kindred spirits, but the Bristol ambient-rockers with the Norwegian moniker, Ålesund, are particular lovers of the acoustics and aesthetics of churches. As a nascent band, morphing from their previous incarnation, Alba, and taking a stylistic leap into widescreen dreamscapes, they played their live debut performance in the Church of St John on the Wall in the spring. They returned there to launch their new single, ‘Shift & Flux’ on Saturday, putting on a high-quality three-act bill.
Holysseus Fly, the new solo project of Holly Wellington, opened the night with a voice that was spot-on for spiritual surroundings. Agata followed, playing several songs solo with keyboard, many of which were her own, alongside a cover of Whitney Houston’s ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’. Her slow, reverb-laden rendition gave the lyrics back the neediness that was masked by the upbeat tempo of the original.
There’s a film not yet made, for which Ålesund haven’t yet composed the award-winning score. But it must happen in the future, otherwise there’s something fundamentally misaligned in the Universe. Baz Luhrmannites will already have appreciated their cover of Radiohead’s ‘Talkshow Host’ from Romeo and Juliet, recorded at the nearby church of St. Thomas the Martyr.
Radiohead may have nearly a quarter-century of critical reputation to trade off, but hearing Ålesund’s version on Saturday night, the musicianship equalled their illustrious forebears. Alba Torriset’s voice, though, with more grandeur, depth and chills than the average fjord, left Ålesund’s version towering above the original, with its “I sound like I’ve just staggered out of Wetherspoons” vocals.
The visual dynamic of Ålesund began with Torriset. Not only are we trained in the language of gigging to look for the mouthpiece of the band, but she dresses her own tones in equally-lavish, ear-catching keyboard ones. At this point, however, your next visual port of call was bassist, Paul Hopkins.
Those accustomed to the bass player being the stock-still, concreted-in foundations of the band, giant and monolithic see something different in Ålesund. You expect the lead guitarist to be the one who looks like they’ve been wired to the mains. But Hopkins seemed to keep the band’s rhythm whilst dancing to the band’s tune, permanently blissed-out by being in his happy place. Who said blokes can’t multi-task?
In comparison, guitarist Lloyd Star and drummer, Carlos Coronado Nieto may not have been a focal point visually, but each one provided a mighty quarter of a sonically-powerful collective. The band concluded with the new single, ‘Shift and Flux’ – well worth the wait. The song’s title, although more figurative in its relation to the song’s words, was a fine indicator as to how the track builds from what sounds like the first drops of rain into a torrential tempest at its peak.
The idea contained within of claiming “a piece of your soul” rang especially true of what they had achieved by this stage in the set. Appeals for “one more song” were met with a firm, “always leave your audience wanting more” by the steely yet cheeky Torriset.
On Saturday nights in Bristol, the pubs, clubs and restaurants are usually heaving. Saturday night TV seduces many to have a deep and meaningful with their sofa, filling many a stupefied living room. Shop doorways near Cabot Circus seem increasingly more full too, sadly. But church on a Saturday night, anyone? That may seem like an odd option, unless you’re an Ålesund devotee.