Gig review: The Low Anthem, Smoke Fairies and Annie and the Beekeepers

Wagon Week, TJ’s Woodhouse Club, Leeds

9th September 2010

I had the absolute pleasure last night of attending part of the Leeds Wagon Week mini-festival of folk music. Advertised acts were The Low Anthem – whose album was one of my favourites last year and Smoke Fairies – who I hadn’t heard of but on looking them up before the gig I was really looking forward to seeing as well.

On our arrival at TJ’s Woodhouse Club – a former working men’s club in Woodhouse (where I lived as a student), which smelt like a church hall and put one of the Smoke Fairies in mind of her grandma’s house – a different, unadvertised, band were playing a set. This was Annie and the Beekeepers and they were a really great surprise. Unfortunately we only caught the last bit of their set but I will now be adding them to my list of bands to watch.

I’ve never been to a gig with such a polite crowd before. A man brushed past my friend and then turned and said ‘I’m terribly sorry, are you alright?’ – we all laughed, it seemed so out of character considering the part of Leeds we were in. Then later on in the gig there was quite a lot of shushing. It was like being in the library. I took a photo on my iPhone of the Smoke Fairies and I could clearly hear the shutter noise and hastily had to put it on silent! Everyone was very much there to hear the music. This was nice but I think it meant it was a little bit of a staid atmosphere – at the beginning at least.

Smoke Fairies were incredible. My friend Lydia and I sat on the floor at the front and were just mesmerised by the skill of the guitarists (the two ‘front women’ who form the core of the band) and their beautiful vocal harmonies. Some of their music put me in mind of the first Verve album ‘Storm in Heaven’. Here’s the first track they performed. You can see here how quiet the crowd was by how clear the recording was on the rubbish iPhone camera!

They also have a really tall bloke on viola in the band who had an amazing old suit on, long hair, and a moustache. He looked like some kind of Dickens character.

I bought their new album after the gig, and I’ve been enjoying it, although it doesn’t have the ‘punch’ of their live performance.

Here’s one more of the videos I took last night:

See if you get what I mean about The Verve.

Speaking of eccentric looking blokes, I think that The Low Anthem are one of the most eccentric bands I’ve ever seen. The lead singer was wearing a deer stalker with most of his messy hair hanging over his eyes. He has a moustache. His band mate – who appears to mainly be the double bass player – has an even more ridiculous moustache and he’s very tall – to match his bass. Then there’s a guy with a big bushy beard who looks uncannily like the bloke with a beard from the film The Hangover. And finally there’s a pretty girl who is probably the most normal looking of the band members.

They don’t only look unusual, they play unusually as well. They kept swapping instruments. So much so that it would be impossible to say ‘that’s the drummer, that’s the lead singer, that’s the keyboard player’. This was the biggest revelation about seeing The Low Anthem play live. They are really virtuoso musicians – and I don’t think that quite comes across on the album.

They even had what appeared to be home-made instruments. And the bloke that looked like the guy in the Hangover plays the saw AND makes it sound good as well!

It’s impossible to do justice to the beauty of their set here. It was almost balletic they way they moved around the stage, swapping instruments. I particularly liked one song where they had two of them playing duelling clarinets.

They played quite a lot of music from an apparently new album and actually the tracks they played from ‘Oh My God’ didn’t really sound like they do on the album. This was just brilliant, however, and showed how very creative they are as a band and how musically daring.

They finished with an encore of ‘Charlie Darwin’ and then the lead singer said “that was a Sciency-Gospel song and now this one is a Gospelly-Gospel song” as the band proceeded to sing 4 part harmony with a guitar and a fiddle this beautiful song (which I recorded live, again, you can note how respectfully quiet the crowd was!):

The Low Anthem – Rest in the wake of the Lord – 9 Sept 2010 by Vahva

This will go down as one of the best gigs I’ve ever been to. So glad that I spotted it was on, almost by accident in an Ents 24 email newsletter just this Tuesday!

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