18th February | LeftBank
LeftBank is an often overlooked little venue, nestled into one of the many small blocks of Stokes Croft. It’s a long, thin, intimate space, with dark red and black walls, peeling retro posters and a giant piece of monochrome art strewn across the wall. It’s equally as easy to lose a crowd as it is to win them over in this place. There are plenty of spots to hide in if desired, but the music is never far off should you want to get involved.
The warm-up act, Samuel Powell had garnered some interest, but a large number of people were still huddled by the bar chatting and were actually requested to hush at one point. As he came to a close, Claire Northey casually walked up, plugged in and with an absence of any attempted fanfare started playing ‘A Word’, the opening track from last year’s album Mavromati. The way it gracefully swooped into full swing with elegant long draws of her bow across the strings reminded me of the opening track from Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven. However, in contrast, this was far more accessible and considerably less pretentious. It was a short song but effortlessly grand, and prompted an immediate silence and a respectful attentiveness. There was also an almost hip-hop whiff in the timing, which became far more pronounced at other moments in the set.
Watching Claire play the violin, you almost forgot it wasn’t either a ukulele or guitar, as she rarely placed it on her shoulder. The rhythms which made up most of the songs were formed of body taps and bass-string plucks fed through her pedals. There were also numerous treble pizzicato melodies looped and fed into the music, lacing it with a buoyant and at times almost fairytale feel. These were particularly prominent in ‘The Moon’ which was introduced as “my reggae song”. This was an overtly joyful and even frivolous love song with a tip-toeing backdrop which felt like raindrops.
Two of the preceding pieces (‘Mavromati’ and ‘Casablanca’) were stark in contrast. Claire’s background in composing shone through here with their striding pace and cinematic feel. Both grew with a bold intensity and burst into resplendent crescendos. As ‘Mavromati’ began, the person beside me said, “I think this is the one which has that amazing riff?” As it reached its spine-tingling peak, I could see her gleefully acknowledging her recollection. This was all the more impressive considering the fact we were watching one individual with merely a violin and a handful of pedals.
‘Look It’s Sleeping’ had a similarly epic tone, but drifted very quickly into a melancholic soundscape. It had a tragic beauty to the music which ascended to absolutely heartbreaking proportions. She described it as “very Sunday night”, but for me it was more of a devastating existential crisis in musical form; but in a good way. I suppose it depends what form your average Sunday night takes. It served as further affirmation of the magnitude that was being created via relatively limited resources.
‘Look It’s Dancing’ demonstrated yet more variation to the sounds that could be achieved, as the especially heavy twangs on the strings were reminiscent of a banjo. A clip-clopping noise was somehow created to accompany this as it drifted into a type of Americana folk. The set closed with ‘So Close’ which, like earlier songs, blossomed into an immersive cinematic piece. The longest of the tracks and with a heart rendering core, it served as an ideal epilogue to a set fuelled with emotional facets and expertly-constructed scale. The set showed a fascinating blend of traditional violin playing, self-contorted by its heavy interaction with a menagerie of other musical styles. This fused it with oozings of character in a very accessible and captivating way.