It struck me today that of the 100+ gigs I’ve seen in the first half of 2016 the majority probably feature girls with guitars. This gig continued that trend and long may it continue. I’ve seen Phoebe Robinson a number of times over the past couple of years, coincidentally sharing bills with Milly Hirst on most of these occasions at Oxjam, Dirty Stop Outs, BFR etc. but it’s probably at least a year since I last saw her and the development in that time is incredible and she was impressive in the first place. Now studying in London and having “gone electric” it was quite some performance she put on at Norwich Arts Centre and as impressive as her singing and playing was the songwriting was just stunning. Highlights included a song penned in the immediate aftermath of the Orlando shootings and the breathtaking “I am a Woman and I Live in Fear” about walking home alone late at night, which I think was the song she hinted at for her new project, this gig possibly being her last solo outing for a while. In Norwich at least. I think we are in for something very special and the song got a deservedly loud and prolonged round of applause. The highlight of the set for me, she had me hanging on every word. Brilliant honest and sincere songwriting.
Milly Hirst also went electric for this gig which was a first outing for her new guitar that she touchingly described as matching her own sensitive personality. It’s a good three or four years since I heard Milly playing electric and really enjoyed hearing the songs in this way again, it adds a new dimension to them. A real surprise treat was when she called for the Wooden Arms to assemble and we had a full band version of Book or a Film with Alex on Nord piano and backing vocals. This was fantastic, it looked like Milly too was enjoying this. I think I heard them do something once before a few years ago in the bandstand at Chapelfield and had often wished to hear such a thing repeated. The one song played acoustically was of course Mary, another piece of brilliant songwriting but in her introduction we learned that some new information had come to light which gave the already fascinating story even more of a twist.
Headlining the evening of course was Wooden Arms who I saw the previous night at Sofar Sounds, Connie once again deputising for Phoebe who injured her ankle on the eve of the tour after six months rehearsing for it. However, Wooden Arms could one day challenge The Fall for line up changes and Connie fitted in seamlessly and was even joined by original violin player Jess Diggins midway through the set. Alex Carson continued the theme of the evening by also donning electric guitar for a few numbers when Jeff took over lead vocal duties at the piano. Milly also joined them onstage and provided sumptuous vocals as well as playing percussion, electric bass, and keys at various stages. The set was predominantly new (and very strong) material and I feel the band are playing to and realising their strengths with the huge array of talent and musicianship in the line up. They do the softer moments so well – Jeff’s voice is fantastic – but also know when and how to add the drama, no better example of all of this than on new single Burial which closed the set before an encore of The Cure’s Lullaby, a well-chosen cover. As ever, Alex was in fine form if a little “well-oiled” as he described when losing his place in the setlist at one point before introducing Tide, with some prompting from Jeff, and who else but Alex could carry off a line like “were you born this way, or did you choose to be such an fucking arsehole?” in music like this?
There was a lovely vibe all evening for this gig and a nice feeling of togetherness, lots of local musicians in appreciative attendance too.
Many thanks to Alex Carson, Wooden Arms, Milly Hirst, Phoebe Robinson, and Norwich Arts Centre.
all rights reserved (c) shashamane 2016