Originally published in the Nottingham Post.
This had to be the best-dressed audience of the year. More burlesque parade than Halloween hangover, everywhere you looked there were masks and feathers, paired with dressy frocks and sharp suits. In one corner of the Albert Hall’s main bar, expert make-up artists applied elaborate facial adornments. Meanwhile, at the far end of the room, before the show and during each interval, Swing Gitan filled the dance floor with sprightly jazz.
In the upstairs hall, Origamibiro performed a peaceful, meditative opening set, blending looped effects and acoustic instruments with impressionistic visuals, and using contemporary techniques to evoke dream-like memories of a forgotten past. Sepia photographs merged into the decaying pages of old books; an ancient typewriter hammered out disconnected phrases onto a split screen. It was an oasis of calm in an otherwise riotous night.
Up from London, The City Shanty Band took to the stage in masks with Mickey Mouse ears. “We don’t know whether we’re mice or rats”, they confessed, before lurching into a boisterous set of sea-shanties that pitted nine lusty male voices against drums and occasional accordion. With arms thrown around each other’s shoulders, they stomped and clapped and roared, goading the hall into life. The set ended with a stage invasion, the drums growing ever faster as the singers roared their final battle cry: “all for beer and tobacco!”
With each successive performance, The Invisible Orchestra grows larger, and less invisible. They’re up to 42 players now, with an 11-piece brass section, a 13-piece choir, and a line-up which – as this paper has said before – makes Jools Holland’s Rhythm and Blues Orchestra look like a skiffle band. In logistical terms alone, it’s a phenomenal achievement.
After a slow-building instrumental overture, choir leader Rachel Foster stepped forward for the first guest vocal of the night – not that many in the audience would have known this, as none of the singers were introduced by name. She was succeeded by reggae legend Percydread, whose leg injury proved no barrier to a storming rendition of War.
By this stage, half the audience were on their feet. Following Ed Bannard’s slow-burning Into The Arms Of The Night, a crazed percussion duet between band leader James Waring and Sabar Soundsystem’s Mikey Davis brought the other half to their feet, ready for Hannah Heartshape’s electrifying No Time Like The Present. By the end of the song, the aisles and the front of the stage were packed with dancers. The Albert Hall probably hadn’t seen anything like it since The Rolling Stones played there in 1964.
Other star performers included Emilios Georgiou-Pavli from Nottingham’s Hallouminati, who led the band with his bazouki, and a startlingly dapper MC $pyda, who drew on his dancehall roots for a reggae-soul workout.
Despite being marred by a terrible, soupy sound mix, which rendered the string section and the choir literally inaudible and blurred much of the percussion and keyboards, this was a spectacular performance, which succeeded in provoking unforgettable scenes of the most elegant mayhem.
This review originally appeared in the Nottingham Post.
“This is our first sit-downer of the tour”, said I Am Kloot’s John Bramwell, gazing out over a packed Albert Hall. “Not that we’re experimenting on you, or anything.” But given the suitability of this former Temperance Hall, with its late Victorian architecture, magnificent pipe organ and churchy acoustics, it was hard to imagine the Manchester trio having quite the same impact in a more typical stand-up rock venue.
The Albert Hall doesn’t stage many gigs, so this felt like a special occasion, as if an exception was being made. The artwork to I Am Kloot’s sixth and latest album, Let It All In, had been hoisted up at the back of the stage, almost obscuring the organ behind. It was a bold stroke for such an unassuming act, but the band’s fortunes have taken a marked upturn in recent years: a Mercury nomination for their 2010 album Sky At Night, and an unprecedented Top Ten placing for the latest release, just a few weeks ago.
“Some of you have been sticking with us for some time”, Bramwell observed. “By the looks of you, anyway”, he added, to laughter. “And we appreciate it.” A genial front man, with a relaxed manner and a droll turn of phrase, his stage patter had a welcoming effect, making us all feel like a part of the show.
As the epic, twenty-two song set progressed, the chatty asides ebbed away, leaving Bramwell’s songs to do all the talking. There was plenty of fresh material to digest, including the recent single Hold Back The Night, the lilting, Beatles-esque Masquerade, and the bitter, lovelorn Bullets – but Sky At Night provided many of the most outstanding moments, with songs that seem to have accrued extra power over time. Three of these closed the main set: Lately, a show-stopping Radiation – which left the audience briefly dumbstruck – and Proof, their anthem for lonely drinkers everywhere.
Three additional musicians wandered on and off the stage, adding keyboards, extra guitars, brass, woodwind and accordion. All six players returned for the encore. The audience stayed standing, light bulbs lit up the backdrop for the first and only time, and current single These Days Are Mine brought this exceptional night to a rousing, exultant conclusion.
Set list: From Your Favourite Sky, Morning Rain, Northern Skies, Bullets, Shoeless, Masquerade, Hey Little Bird, Let Them All In, Some Better Day, The Same Deep Water As Me, Hold Back The Night, At The Sea, Astray, No Fear Of Falling, I Still Do, Fingerprints, To The Brink, Mouth On Me, Lately, Radiation, Proof, These Days Are Mine.