The Mechanicals Band with special guest Ellie GowersReview
Well here I am again, this time reviewing not one but two artists on whom I fear I may have already used up my supply of appropriate superlatives in previous reviews.
But of course not. They are so good that the last thing either would do is simply produce facsimiles of past concerts.
The Mechanicals don't have support acts as a rule, yet such is the level of mutual admiration that yesterday afternoon at the Magic Lantern, this rule was set aside for their guest Ellie Gowers. After all they have much in common: consummate musicianship, impeccable taste, a drive to create their own music on entirely their own terms plus one other similarity which I'll reveal in a moment.
The latter as is her wont, held the rammed venue spellbound: from her traditional a cappella "Robin" set opener, you could hear a pin drop. Even when she started playing her guitar, the intensity of her performance was only matched by that of the audience's attention to it.
As I've said before, Ellie completely inhabits her own songs, dancing & moving to them with a restless energy matched in the pieces themselves: passionate lyrical images set in idiosyncratic melodic structures: although Ellie is probably thought of as a "folk" singer, her writing completely avoids the traditional formal structures of that genre with neither words nor music repeating in the predictable ways of the canon. We are always kept guessing at what is coming next.
The only negative aspect of Ellie's set in fact was that immediately after delivering what sounded to us all as a haunting pitch perfect rendition of "For A While", she was forced to curtail her set as her voice had gone. What it must have cost her to deliver that last song in that way is impossible to guess, but I thank her as the song is one of my favourites: I defy anyone not to have a moistness in the eye so moving are the words & melody.
I suppose too that it was fortunate that one of the songs she had in the earlier part of the setlist was a brand new one "The Sky Is On Fire" which could well be her finest so far. I suggested it was "zeitgeisty" to her afterwards & she seemed happy with that so I'll leave it in. You really do have to hear it to appreciate it so I recommend that you attend one of her live shows since Ellie also said that she won't be recording it until she has, in her own mind, perfected it (and since she has plans for future musical collaboration, I imagine that will be a factor in its final arrangement). And don't just take my word for it: I think we can safely say that if a musician who was present and has had a number one single calls it "awesome" then it is indeed a really great song. (Incidentally I am just adding this sentence as while I was finishing my review I caught sight of a comment by Adam Barry of Merrymaker about Ellie saying "Simply put, I don't have the vocabulary to put how good this girl is into words. From the opening line to the final chord, she's hands down one of the best artists I've ever ever had the pleasure to listen to and to hang out with.....you're an inspiration, and you've NO idea how good you are. Incredible". How could I not include that?)
Catch up with all things Ellie Gowers at her online bases:
You can catch her live back at Temperance on September 7th with Greengrass as her special guests.
And thus the Mechanicals began their set a little earlier than scheduled, by about two songs' worth of time. They too had temporarily lost a vital element but more fortunately it didn't stop them playing. Viola player Katrin Gilbert was unable to be part of the band & as drummer Ben Haines said, the other four filled the space she left in the arrangements. This manifested itself in several ways including violinist Jools Street standing rather than sitting and in the intimate space of the Magic Lantern, there was more room for him and double bassist John Parker to move about as their music took them, adding a visual element not usually associated with the Mechanicals. Whether this too accounted for the slight shift in the set towards the more jazz orientated end of their repertoire is moot: it may have been a nod to the recent birthday of Philip Larkin (born 97 years and two days previously): they have been working on a suite of songs "The Righteous Jazz" for a hybrid music/drama celebration of his life. Several of the songs from that project were played, along with three of the Shakespearean settings from their first album ‘Exit, Pursued By Bear' and several from their latest EP, ‘Miscellany #1', moving seamlessly from jazz to folk to classical & various composite styles entirely of their own, enriched by the textures only musicians of such calibre can bring, yet not allowing their own virtuosity to detract or distract from their prime objective, to give poems they (especially singer/guitarist Wes Finch) admire, settings which complement & enhance the original words.
I have noted in previous reviews how although starting with writers well known to me, such as Shakespeare, Masefield, Larkin, Yeats etc, their latest work has introduced me to poets previously I was unaware of (thank you), none more unknown to me than the most recent writer they have set, Australian artist/cartoonist/poet Michael Leunig whose poem "When The Heart" was in the set & it was a highlight of the evening to have Australian audience members who were familiar with him & his work: a first apparently for the band.
Where they had a similarity with Ellie I mentioned earlier, was in playing a superb & unrecorded (to date) new song "I've Got Your Back": the only original song of Wes they played & I think one of his best, even by his high standards. As with "The Sky Is On Fire", this is one I'd really liked to hear recorded & to thus have with me.
It was a wet day outside & the steam rose from the audience as Ellie observed. However the sheer joie de vivre of musicians so enjoying what they were doing, what each other was doing & the audience in turn appreciated this themselves made for an afternoon & early evening not to miss however damp we were to begin with. I'll give it five stars as that's what real reviewers do.
The Mechanicals will be performing "The Righteous Jazz" on November 2nd at Hull Truck by the way.