Celebrating 20 years of the Bella Union label at Leaf for Liverpool Music Week, Paul Fitzgerald finds an evening of true celebration.

Celebrating 20 years of Bella Union Records, label honcho Simon Raymonde brought Lost Horizons to Liverpool Music Week, itself celebrating its 15th year.

Raymonde and co-collaborator in this project Dif Juz drummer Richie Thomas, have drawn an impressive sea of talent around them for their album, Ojala, and for the live band. Frankly, you’d expect nothing less from a man who runs such an innovative, artist led label with such an impressive catalogue.

The seven piece band seemed nervous, and it’s understandable. For Thomas and Raymonde, this was the first time onstage in 20 years, and this show was the very first outing of the live Lost Horizons set up.

The Leaf crowd were, as the former Cocteau Twins member told us towards the end of the show, guinea pigs. And we were happy to be so. It did all feel a little distant at times though, a touch disconnected in between the songs. There was little in the way of communication between the stage and the room. We weren’t expecting a comedy show exactly – we’d already had that earlier from BC Camplight – but some sort of connection, a simple hello, would have prevented the audience feeling the nerves of the band in such an imposing way.

That said, those nerves almost certainly added something to the performance. This was an eclectic set of mellotrons, harmonies, shimmering cascading guitar lines, and piano, woven expertly together over a sharp and solid rhythm section. Each song became a powerhouse torch song in the vocal of Beth Cannon, a singer of staggering range, leaping as she does, so effortlessly from gently poised lilting folk-tinged lines to sheer drama and power, almost gospel-like at times. Real, spellbinding, hairs-on-the-neck stuff.

The pairing of her voice with that of Hilang Child on songs such as the intoxicating She Led Me Away was such a perfectly balanced melodic union. This is a wonderful song, with its simple power held in the melody, and with layers of atmosphere sweeping underneath, it was an absolute highlight of this fluid, intriguing and downright attractive set.

 

The Places We’ve Been, a song set in the dark months of the year, brings the story of the year’s end. The carpet of leaves, the biting chill of winter air and the fresh beginnings of the New Year. Gently sparkling layered guitars, weaving in cycles through each other under a deliciously pretty melody. More than delightful. Absolutely.

Bones was another standout moment, another taster of a record that’s guaranteed to be on the album of the year lists at the end of next month. A lightly dancing piano line, more delicious harmonies, and the simplicity of its rhythm leaving ample space for Cannon’s striking, irrepressive vocal leaps. The audience, held by the band’s concentration in a mix of awe and sheer reverence under Leaf’s fairground lights throughout, found a set of wonder and promise. We need Lost Horizons back on a stage in Liverpool soon, as we keenly anticipate another truly wonderful Bella Union release in the shape of the Ojala album.

BC Camplight brought his characteristic bone-dry wit and laconic charm to the stage earlier in the evening. A long-time friend of Bella Union, his warm piano led musings, with a feel of 70s Jimmy Webb or Randy Newman see him musing on the love he has for his dog, mayonnaise and of course, shrimps. Now resident in Manchester, it was good to see him in the intimacy of a solo set, and to be able to appreciate the warm chords, their delicate progressions and twists in the piano lines.

His last visit to Leaf saw him play with a full band. He always impresses, but there’s something extra magical about hearing these songs performed in their raw, bare bones state.

The night began with an assured performance from Hilang Child, the alter ego of Ed Riman who also joined the live Lost Horizons set up later in the evening. Truly gifted with a rich and exquisite voice of with similar depth and tone to John Grant or Josh Tillman, his keyboard work lays the perfect foundation to highlight the innate skill he has for melody. The strength in Riman’s work is in its warm and sentimental pop purity.

This was an evening of real celebration. Celebration of a great label, as part of an ever growing staple of Liverpool’s festival offer, and in a venue that celebrates such wonderful evenings so well. Special. Really very special.

Photos by Vicky Pea