You’ll probably be aware by now that I get very excited about freebies (out of all proportion, to be honest) and so you’ll be able to work out my feelings when a friend texted to offer me a ticket to go and see Shelia Chandra and Slow at St George’s in Bristol, last weekend.
I actually got the chance to see Slow last week in Gloucester at this month’s Acoustica, but, like the dimwit I am, I chose to stay at home and watch Top 14 rugby (Dax 9 Stade Francais 13, if you missed it). Those who did venture out, however, came back enthusing about Slow, and I began to feel a little foolish.
St George’s is a lovely old venue, a disused church (more like a temple, really) that has been restored for concerts and the like. I imagine the great cavernous ceilings and galleries play havoc with the sound, at times, but the atmosphere is terrific.
Sheila Chandra is mainly famous for her 1982 hit “Ever So Lonely” with Monsoon, although a friend tells me that she was also a member of the Grange Hill cast at one point. I get the impression she’s worked through all that now because there were few concessions to popular culture, and judging from last night’s performance, I’d say she does pretty much what she feels like.
I’ll be frank; she was at times a hard listen. Although she clearly has an excellent voice and skipped cleverly between a number of different cultural traditions, you’ve got to be pretty damn exciting to get through an evening just using vocals and the very minimum of ambient backing tracks. I liked the Gregorian / Sanskrit chanting she did (not as pretentious as it sounds – it worked) and I liked the fact that as a British Asian she had a pretty good understanding of British folk tradition in the songs she did. I also liked the discreet version of “Ever So Lonely” she did (and the fact that she introduced it as a song that her ex-husband wrote for a previous girl-friend – “He did write a beautiful love song for me, but that wasn’t a hit…”) But on the whole, I did find myself wishing for just a little more backing – a tabla here, a guitar there…
Coming on before this, however, was a much more conventional line up in the shape of Bristol five-piece Slow, who specialise in a downbeat, gentle style that showcased the strength of their song-writing pretty well. Framed by the composed rhythms of percussion and bass, and some nicely understated guitar work, each of their songs was performed in two-part harmonies by Marvin and Lucy, and I really liked that. The other element I particularly enjoyed was Lucy’s harmonium playing – it’s an outlandish sound you don’t hear too much these days, which is a shame.
The artists Slow really remind me of, is American group Ida, who do a similar sort of slow tempo, boy-girl vocal interplay that I’m rather partial to, but seeing as how I’m yet to meet anyone who’s heard Ida’s records either, you’re probably no wiser, really.
There was a lot of talk in the bar afterwards of an organic sound that grew naturally, with no one part out-stripping another, which I kind of went along with, because they were such a friendly bunch, but thinking about the gig as I went home, Slow’s set was a bit one-paced and the one part of it I wanted to hear more of was that slightly John Cale-ish harmonium sound – I wouldn’t have minded that part out-stripping the rest.
I’d love to be able to add some tracks by either of these artists at this point but neither of their sites offer any, which I think is a shame, but there you go.
You can, however, go to the websites and Myspaces below to find out more and hear some streamed tracks.
Sheila Chandra’s website
and finally :
Sheila Chandra’s Myspace
Where you’ll find this :