An absolutely lovely gig at the Bicycle Shop on a wintry Tuesday evening in Norwich. A line up I had been looking forward to more and more each day, featuring some of my favourite Norwich bands, and definitely my favourite Norwich singer, namely Milly Hirst, Heart of a Dog, and The Grazing Saints.
Milly and Heart of a Dog had been on a short national tour, having covered in the previous days trips to Falmouth, Birmingham, Oxford and Brighton, they were stopping off in the fine city for the Norwich leg of the tour and a day or two of rest before completing the final leg. Norwich had come out in force to welcome them back, in a sort of joyous homecoming, albeit briefly before they complete the tour, hopefully that means we can have a second homecoming gig!
I’ve followed their tour with much interest and not a little jealousy as I would have loved to have seen them play some of these places, but it felt like a real homecoming seeing them here in our beloved subterrannean venue of the Bicycle Shop.
But first on the bill were The Grazing Saints. Some months ago I saw lead singer Joe Quinn perform a superb solo and acoustic set at The Birdcage, and later on a fine set with the full Grazing Saints band. They have rapidly become one of my favourite Norwich bands. Joe is blessed with an incredibly expressive voice, which matched with his songwriting skills and a tight band with a superb bass to compliment his great, Neil Young influenced guitar play with echo and reverb, I was often reminded of some of the superior indie rock bands of the 80s, such as Joy Division, Echo & the Bunnymen and Primal Scream, but Joe’s voice and songwriting give this young band a really great depth. Amazing singers though Ian Curtis, Ian McCulloch and Bobby Gillespie are and were, I think Joe’s voice is more versatile, and can be incredibly expressive. At times with a more folksy, rootsy edge and influence, his songwriting has a dark, sometimes melancholy feel, with a worldliness and perception which is amazing in one so young. Hearing this voice one feels there is a character who has experienced much in life behind it, with eyes closed one can forget one is in Norfolk and imagine pines and forests and stories of loss, depression, isolation and salvation. This is a band who can be loud and powerful, but also know how to use space in songs and when to have quieter moments. I will be seeing this band again very soon and look forward to it, they are rich in ideas and potential.
Next up was the superb Milly Hirst. I have run out of superlatives to describe this stunning singer-songwriter. As any regular readers will know what a fan I am and how I admire her songwriting, guitar playing, and stunning voice, which is full of power but used with such great restraint and subtlety which is all the more poweful for that. She played to an audience who listened with a reverential respect and silence, which is deserved, and although she said she was tired from the first part of the tour, she played with an enthusiasm and enjoyment which was really infectious. A slightly different set from the last time I saw her, including Kampala Roads, Book or a Film and other gems. After a spellbinding rendition of one of her masterpieces, ‘Rose’, she was joined on stage for her final number, by Jon from Heart of a Dog, on drums, and Port Isla’s Will Bloomfield on keyboards. Whilst wishing her all the success in the world, and the recognition she so richly deserves, another part of me is treasuring these occasions when I can see and hear her in such small and intimate venues as the Bicycle Shop.
The final act was of course the wonderful Heart of a Dog. Although I don’t think that any of the band were born in Norwich they are a band that have been totally embraced and taken into the heart of the city as one of its own. It also felt like a homecoming, and they played another fine set and had the audience totally enchanted. Jon is a highly accomplished and versatile drummer, providing the band’s heartbeat, as well as occasional ukelele and handclapping duties, and Ian’s bass provides a wonderfuly warm pulse to go along with Sam’s lovely and expressive, warm voice and guitar playing. All of them provide beautiful harmonies. Tonight they too were joined by Port Isla‘s Will on guest keyboard duties. The songs encapsulate a multitude of moods and always introduced with a warm and chatty engagement with the audience that leaves one feeling we are watching friends performing. But there is a depth to the songs, as well as variety, from ‘Fever’ with its Richard Hawley-esque refrain of “Darlin'” to the howl-along Hits from the Shows, which is probably my favourite, with its beautiful harmonies and chord changes. They are so likeable and I appreciate the subject matters they deal with, such as the introduction “This one is about parents, we all have or had them, and this is about how when they stop worrying about us, we start worrying about them”. Touching and moving. For their final song they performed acoustically in the middle of the room their song Berlin, along with Milly Hirst. It was beautiful, charming and very sweet, and I wondered if I might recall at a later time the occasion I saw Heart of a Dog, Will Bloomfield and Milly Hirst perform a song together in the basement of a Norwich cafe 🙂 I hope they all go on to great success.
Review by shashamane
All photographs (c) shashamane http://www.facebook.com/NorwichLiveMusicPhotos
Heart of a Dog http://www.heartofadog.co.uk
Milly Hirst http://www.millyhirst.co.uk
Grazing Saints https://soundcloud.com/thegrazingsaints
Will Bloomfield / Port Isla http://www.portisla.com
shashamane photography http://www.facebook.com/ShashamaneArtPhotography