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Current 93/Shirley Collins/Macgillivary (live at the Union Chapel)

Macgillivary - live at The Union ChapelLondon
8 February 2014

Macgillivary started proceedings with some rather spooky vocals, multiple choirs caught in the looper’s long corridors, trapped trajectories, cloister curving, quickly followed by a souped-up electric zither accompaniment, as her sorrowful voice continued to work its magic through the vastness of the chapel. She pulled out some nice feedback too, and those ‘white horse’ piano tides were superb, reminded me so much of Galás‘ dark inroads or a more shadow-cast Enya. She concluded her set by walking into the wings, leaving the looper to stretch her vocals ad infinitum, the audience left to clap an empty stage.

Shirley Collins - live at The Union ChapelA great opener, which revealed the second surprise of the evening; none other than folk legend Shirley Collins. Now in her late seventies, she crossed the stage with Ian Kearey who sat down to accompany her on guitar. The crowd’s appreciation was deafening. Seated, she stated “I wouldn’t have done this for anyone else other than David Tibet.” A further massive applause followed, then faded to a gorgeous rendition of “All The Pretty Little Horses.” The vocal was warm, aged, reflectively twisting, the “peck out eyes” bit ringing in my ears as the golden accompaniment bounced the chapel walls like imaginary hooves. The approval was astounding… “You’re far too kind,” she stated modesty and pleaded with us to “stop clapping before I burst into tears and ruin the next song.” I had tears for her… she was so sweet and humble. The next (and very last) song was a folk-fold of a “maiden meets death in the woods,” a prophetic tale where the maiden in question bargained for extra life, but couldn’t escape death’s inevitable embrace, Shirley’s deep voice echoing its pathos perfectly. A short performance, after which she introduced David Tibet and Current Ninety Three, who assembled on stage musician after musician to sinews of gathering musicality.

Current 93 - live at The Union ChapelThe ranks included (takes a deep breath) two members of Comus, Groundhogs guitarist (and David’s guitar hero) Tony McPhee, Jack Barnett of These New Puritans, Ossian Brown of Cyclobe, Dutch pianist Reinier van Houdt, drummer Carl Stokes alongside seasoned regulars James Blackshaw (swapping his usual 12 string for a meaty four) and electronic mangler Andrew Liles. Finally the man himself wandered out, opened his lyric book and the evening’s fun commenced. It was an impressive show of force, showcasing brand new material. A big sound, with a rocker, gutsy foundation that wasn’t afraid to topple into quieter realms nailed in trickling ivory. A fluid canvas, constantly in the grip of Tibet’s imagination, fitting perfectly to his word storms which ebbed from world-weary to cooking apocalyptic.

Phrases beamed out as if luminescently highlighted, sometimes spat into existence. “Something’s dead in the jigsaw” went Tibet and you found your mind just nodding along with approval. His lyrics have always be chock full of startling imagery, passion and a fair bit of madness, and this new material was as strong as ever. Four tracks in, they finally left a space for applause, then carried on. Loved the way the musicians would get completely carried away with it all, David having to fan his hands to the ground to periodically let in a hushed oasis for him to tip-toe a haunted refrain. Tibet gleefully skipping around bare foot as everything dipped into a velveteen night of delicate thunder andflower-arranged colours as he sung of beauty, sex and cosmology. Rose McDowell comparisons coming from Bobbie (Watson) Seagroatt whilst newcomer Jack Barnett’s secondary baritone exuded a rich Cyrillic flavour in a few songs. The whole set was blissfully blistered, and left you greedy for more.

TonyMcPhee - live at The Union ChapelClapped my hands red for an encore, which was finally rewarded with “Imperium,” a golden oldie of long shadows, swiftly followed by a passionate reworking of “Black Ships,” something that paled into insignificance when compared to the murderous zeal of “Lucifer over London” that followed, David Tibet transformed into a raw shrieking lunatic. Screaming out the “Fallen One’s” name over and over, spitting/swearing out the verses like daggers. Barnett swapped his organ for soaring guitar, joined forces with Mr Blackshaw’s pounding glowforms and Carl Stokes’ rushing drums, ember burnt on the lilting “Six, Six, Six, It Makes Us Sick” requiem.

In the afterglow, humble thanks were said to all assembled. David proclaimed his happiness, word-choked, falling over himself with gratitude for the fact that Shirley had finally agreed to play. He turned to Tony and reminisced on childhood fantasies of guitar playing, acting out a particular Groundhogs song in a mirror with a gatefold picture of Tony’s face pressed to his face. A tale that introduced the last song of the night, a cover of “Sad-Go-Round,” which Mr McPhee led in a masterful and dextrous display of blazing guitar, his fret fairies skiing through Tibet’s giddy vocals – who later sat in the audience to take in Tony’s awesome solo, finally zooming back for the last verse/chorus and the evening’s conclusion.

-Michael Rodham-Heaps-

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