Gabby Young and Other Animals
June 13, 2012
The Scala, 275-277 Pentonville Road, King´s Cross, London – N1 9NL
It’s important to set the scene. This was no ordinary album launch, as became clear when I walked in to the first floor bar at King Cross’ Scala, which had been kitted out with cake stalls, seamstress boutiques, nick nacks and object d’art, as well as an interactive photo stand where you could be photographed sat astride a crescent moon made of glitter. For me, it recalled Duckie’s fête shows such as Gay Shame and their Barbican Christmas Market.
Moving into the performance space the village fête theme continued. There were multi-coloured paper lanterns and swathes of bunting above the audience heads. Dominating the stage, next to a drum kit that was draped in garlands of paper roses, was a full size harp, its stature all the more imposing next to a miniature 2 foot high upright piano.
The support acts were introduced by a couple of comedians, the ‘mayor’ and ‘vicar’ of this fête scenario. I had missed Kat Flint whilst browsing through the market place, so the first act I caught was Jess Bryant, an unassuming figure who seemed dwarfed by her electric guitar as she sang three rather maudlin yet melodic songs with a distinctively haunting vocal. Jamie Doe of Magic Lantern followed with an acoustic guitar set of introspective, sparse folk tunes in the Elliot Smith mould. But it was the arrival of Fiona Bevan that made me sit up. Her first track, ‘Moth’, clearly chosen to showcase her amazing vocal range, was startlingly beautiful as she slid effortlessly from chest to head voice – the effect was a mash-up of breathy torch song and folk. Her style is such that I can confidently say she’s a Marmite artist: you’re going to either love her or hate her.
The last act to be introduced before the main event was Revere, a band that played what can only be described as ‘epic-folk’. It was in fact so stirring that they could have roused an army of hippies to war! Their opening number, with its fantastically extravagant and rolling intro, built on the sound of harp, violin, cello, keys and acoustic guitar, just kept rising and building to a feverish level. Coupled with the repeated lyrics, “every word you’ve said, is set in stone”, it was a primal and anthemic cry for help. Frontman Stephen Ellis (Gabby’s beau and creative partner) is vocally very similar to Interpol’s Paul Banks but, inconceivably, even stronger. What was also inconceivable was that the night could get much better than this – but then Gabby took to the stage.
Adorned in the full and elaborate regalia featured on the new album’s cover art, Gabby Young and her ‘other animals’ assembled, and all that prior to this moment had seemed overtly twee or gimmicky suddenly made sense.
Launching straight into ‘In Your Head’, with 10 musicians on stage, including a brass section, the sound was rich and massive. Gabby made known that they were going to play the entirety of The Band Called Out For More in track order, the prospect of which had just become extremely exciting. As the frenetic gypsy, circus folk of the opening song came to an explosive end, I had one thought: “This is how to launch an album!” The bar had been set quite high by her support acts, yet she had comfortably just took it up a notch, and then for her second song proceeded to push it even further by bringing out all her support acts. Affectionately dubbed “the choir”, the number on stage had now swelled to 17. The energy was joyous. We were witnessing a family of musicians who have a genuine love for her music, and Gabby sparkled with a brilliance made more apparent by their presence.
And what musicians! I marvelled at their skill and talent as many of them played more than one instrument, often during single songs. The atmosphere was infectious and the audience, were in fact both receptive and energetic. “The songs are very catchy aren’t they?”, said the woman to my left as she swung her hips. I agreed and said that I thought the band were marvellous, “The drummer is my son!” she replied, beaming.
Two trails of bunting went crowd surfing during the jazz infused ‘Clay Heart’, as Gabby scat over an extended middle eight. Then, an intricately faithful performance of ‘Neither The Beginning Nor The End’, my personal favourite, followed. Each song felt like a highlight only to be topped by the next – so much so it became quite intoxicating, and when the horns kicked in on ‘Horatio’ the audience were sent over the edge.
The album’s more contemplative moments were special too. Gabby’s love letter to Stephen, ‘Male Version of Me’, began with Gabby alone on stage, and was quite touching. Later, when she performed ‘Honey’ as a solo, the audience sat on the floor at her feet like a classroom of kids. As we headed toward the end, it was time to build the sound again, and as Gabby hit the giddy theremin-like vocals on ‘The Answer Is In The Question’, I regretted that I wouldn’t be able to listen to this album like this always: live, loud and lush.
Gabby Young and Other Animals have wonderful stage presence and connected with the audience in a very special way. From the interactive environment; having the brass section play from within the crowd on the penultimate track ‘Curtain Call’; and using the audience to provide (surprisingly tuneful) additional vocals on several songs. It was this connection that made the evening even more special. It was a great privilege to hear this album live in its entirety, an album that in places is as inventive as Kate Bush and as infectious as Fiona Apple at her most whimsical. It’s an album I highly recommend and if you can hear it live, do not pass up the chance!