When I first chanced upon the music of Aldous Harding a few years ago – probably through KEXP’s excellent YouTube channel – I was immediately captivated by a unique artist. I soon purchased her album Party which was certainly among my favourite albums of that year and had been hoping to catch her live ever since. Alas, there was no Norwich date on this tour but when I was told she was performing in Cambridge this was too good an opportunity to miss. The same thinking for many of us from Norwich it would seem, as having made the short walk from the train station to the venue I spotted a number of familiar faces, with Norfolk photographers being particularly well-represented, though none of us were here to photograph, it was all about hearing Aldous.
The venue itself was a lovely surprise. This particular gig was housed in the smaller J2 space of The Junction, usually all-seated for this one the seats on the floor were taken out bringing the capacity up to about 350. Needless to say all tickets for this were snapped up long ago.
Support was from Melbourne’s Laura Jean. I missed the first part of her set but was enjoying what I did catch, despite the constant yabbering from someone at the back until the first person to crack told him to go outside and talk. Inwardly, we were all applauding him for that. It wasn’t especially loud but when everyone else is silent and trying to enjoy the beautiful music it was irritating.
No such chatter for the headline set from Aldous Harding though. The lights dimmed and the background music stopped and then … for some moments … nothing. Time seemed weird as nothing happened and the tension grew but then we heard a door close backstage and the band came on, followed by Aldous Harding herself who takes pauses, and potential awkward silences and turns them into an art form. It’s powerful stuff before she has even played a note. There’s something about a room full of people all in total silence … and then the songs happen. We soon know we are party to something special and taken on a personal journey. It’s several songs into the set before she speaks and that is a request to have some light on the audience so that she can see us. This took the intensity and intimacy to another level and I doubt there was a single person in the room who did not feel her stare and make eye-contact at some point. We are well-used to respectful and attentive audiences but I have never known such a hushed and rapt crowd as this, we were transfixed and it was only after the gig that we realised we had just been in some sort of hypnotic spell, it was spellbinding stuff.
For the most part she was sat playing guitar with a couple of songs performed at the piano and a finale where she kept the beat with a cup and a drumstick. A cover or two, including Gerry Rafferty’s Right Down the Line, one or two songs from Party but the majority of the set was from new album Designer, a copy of which I picked up from the merch stall, on gold vinyl no less.
Some footage here from fluffytoy77 on YouTube:
It was a quite remarkable set from this amazing artist, there may not be much in the way of chat but it does not matter as she has such presence. A thoroughly captivating musician who got an incredible ovation from a hugely satisfied and entertained sold out crowd. This was magical, powerful and very special, her voice is so incredibly versatile too. That’s now three outstanding though totally different gigs in the space of a week for me, starting with Gladboy at NAC and Fat White Family at The Waterfront.
All of her videos are works of art too, bringing some very welcome Bowie-esque theatre and otherness to the medium. Aldous Harding is most definitely one of the unique and distinctive characters who is always interesting, being herself and true to herself. Quite special.
It’s worth another mention of the venue too, this was my first visit to The Junction but I don’t think it will be my last. One enters the venue into a very relaxed foyer area with a cafe vibe, bar and box office, it’s a bit like a cinema foyer but without the popcorn. I immediately felt at ease here because it reminded me of Norwich Arts Centre as it was so friendly and relaxed. It’s good when we can comfortably enjoy the time before and after sets as well as the music itself. Gigs are of course all about the music and energy between performers and audience but when the crowd are put at such ease and actually made to feel welcome by friendly venue staff it makes all the difference and that is what elevates the gig into something even more memorably enjoyable, and this was certainly an unforgettable one. This whole gig experience was just a joy and it was lovely to bump into Norwich friends too. Big thanks to Andi Sapey for giving me a lift back to Norwich afterwards.
“New Zealand singer / songwriter, Aldous Harding, has been wowing audiences around her native country for years with her original ‘gothic folk’ music. She’s known for her sinister torch songs with a charismatic combination of wit and quiet horror. She comes from the same dramatic realm where Kate Bush and Scott Walker reside.”
Another piece of footage from the gig found on YouTube by El Tuco: