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Vashti Bunyan / Woodpigeon (live at King’s Place)

11 March 2016

I had not been to King’s Place before, but had been reliably informed that the venue was excellent acoustically for folk concerts. The place has an almost Barbican feel about it, and is quite old school in that no intermission drinks were allowed in the venue, which saw people necking them pretty quickly before Vashti Bunyan’s set. The concert hall is beautiful, though and not too large; and the sound was rather magnificent.

This was probably the quietest gig that I had been to in many a year. Normally my experience of reviewing for Freq finds me getting my ears pummelled on a regular basis by a barrage of guitars and drums. However,  tonight was almost a soporific lullaby of sound that drifted over the audience in a golden glow and somehow made you feel comforted inside.

Woodpigeon is a Canadian singer-songwriter who performs solo onstage. His voice hits a mixture between mid-tones and high register (at times a little like Anthony and the Johnsons), but has a stirring, even melancholic feel at times. The songs are beautifully crafted acoustic ballads, mainly taken tonight from his new album Trouble and are filled with wonderful, almost pastoral chord sequences that resemble Nick Drake in their execution. There is a lightness, a hazy summer element to his songs that also carry a sense of sadness about them. With six albums under his belt, there is certainly quite a lot of back catalogue for me to now go and investigate. In a strange way, there could not have been a better opening act for Vashti.

Vashti Bunyan live March 2016

Apparently Heartleap is meant to be Vashti Bunyan’s final album and this her final tour, so I just had to be there to witness her play live. Ever since I heard her first album (released in 1970) in the late Nineties, I’ve been transfixed by the stories of her travelling the UK in a caravan and writing these fragile songs. After many years in musical hibernation, she finally returned with some new songs in 2005. She had lost none of the fragility in her voice and the music still drifted around like a mist left after a fairy dance.

Tonight Vashti is joined onstage by only two other musicians, but the sound is wonderfully full and is still evocative of the sleepy acid folk of the early ’70s. She sits on a chair behind her guitar and introduces each of the songs in an almost half-whispered voice. It’s a strange thing that she seems awkward and comfortable on stage at the same time. When she tells you the ideas behind the tunes, it’s as if you’re sitting around some Iron Age campfire while the shaman recounts a tale. She plays “Diamond Day” fairly early in the set, which is probably her best-known song due to it being used in an advert a few years back, but she concentrates mainly on songs from the new album: “Mother” is heartbreaking, “Jellyfish” has a certain vibe of 1967 about it and “Heartleap” is sublime and magical.

The set seems all too short though; well, good things always do seem to pass quickly. Vashti almost seems a little embarrassed by the audience’s ecstatic reaction as she comes back on to the stage for the encore. A shout goes up for “Glow Worms” and Vashti obliges by playing a haunting lovely version of the song.

Vashti Bunyan live March 2016

The evening was rather wonderful; it had a soft summer glow on a cold winter’s night. Vashti Bunyan is a one-off, and no-one else sounds like her or writes songs the same way that she does. She is as much part of the bygone era of acid folk as she is part of twenty-first century music. Her songs are like spiders’ webs hung with morning dew, wonderful and vulnerable and tonight felt like they could almost disappear with a strong gust of wind.

Yes, it’s sad that Vashti will no longer perform after this tour, as we probably need her music now more than ever to remind us that there is a gentler world out there among the chaos; and all we have to do is push aside the long grass to get a glimpse of it and hear its sublime music.

-Words: Gary Parsons-
-Pictures: Clare Bevan-

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