By Alex Cooper
In a week framed by Rishi Sunak and Suella Braverman’s new brand of anti-immigration fearmongering, many dissenting voices have come out to condemn the policy and rhetoric. Young Fathers are no exception: to a capacity Albert Hall, on a Tuesday night, band member Graham ‘G’ Hastings repeated the mantra “Say it loud, say it clear, refugees are welcome here” with passionate, controlled fury.
This is not out of character for Young Fathers; nearly ten years at the forefront of British music goes to show this. The Scottish three-piece have amassed a Mercury Prize, several incredible albums, a prestigious live reputation, and a transition from outward-looking music to encompassing all kinds of introspection.
Politically, they are unafraid of being brutally honest. When Nestlé requested a song from them for their advert, refrains commenting directly on Nestlé’s issues in developing countries were submitted to the conglomerate. Young Fathers don’t exactly do things by the book.
In terms of the music, their sound is unique and transcends genre. Sophie Walker comments that “the thing about Young Fathers isn’t that they sound like nothing, but rather, they sound like everything”. Their Manchester show, promoting new album Heavy Heavy, was a case in point.
Warm, front-lit lamps tinged the stage backdrop of a white sheet, half covering the historic organ of the Albert Hall. Shadows stretched across the back of the hallowed walls, echoing cave paintings. The three piece band, assuming their positions backed by two female vocalists, a drummer and a keyboard player, came straight out the trap with 2013’s ‘Queen is Dead’.
The driving drum beat focused players on stage. Each member, starting in a static position, weaved and dovetailed with the others and created a forceful, unified presence in the beauty of the venue. The sound was mixed so that every part of the show could be listened to in isolation and it would still be interesting; like listening to Joy Division‘s Unknown Pleasures, but with much higher energy, and nearly 50 years more of advancement.
I turned to my friend after the first song in complete disbelief at what had just been showcased, only to be met with her displaying equal shock. These moments don’t come by very often, yet Young Fathers fostered one within five minutes.
Playing arguably their biggest hit ‘GET UP’ third was a smart move by the band. It gave the crowd a prompt to party very early on, but also meant that they were free from it, and could perform their stage show without the expectation of a traditionally explosive finale. The crowd did not stop moving throughout the entire set, blurring the line between the performance and the audience, and inviting us to be part of the compelling synergy displayed.
On record, Young Fathers are sonically unique. They experiment and expand horizons of what music can make you feel. In their live show, the exact same principle is carried forward, yet much more profoundly.
Playing 2018’s ‘Toy’, of which they made their Jools Holland debut with, the band extended the outro, doubling the speed. The crowd fed back on this, timing their two-stepping perfectly with the beat, and making the floor of the upstairs Albert Hall unnervingly creak.
The breadth of Young Fathers’ discography was also showcased. The stomping anthem, ‘I Saw’, and the relentless and anthemic, ‘Drum’, were set highlights. Kayus Bankole even added a further element of surprise by appearing on the balcony mid-song, with the crowd too engrossed in the show to notice him make his way to the back of the hall, only to return back onto stage for the apex of the song.
At their most intense, Young Fathers are hypnotic, and you could feel your entire body become in tune with the music. At their most anthemic they channel early Arcade Fire in their knack for being uplifting, with rising loops and repeated refrains. Virtuosity was never the destination for Young Fathers, yet they hit it every single time. They never lose their way.
Ending with the album from the beginning , a signoff with TAPE TWO’s ‘Only Child’ saw a breakdown of instrumentals and an acapella rendition of the song. All five voices were unbreakable in unison, and without any fanfare, they were gone.
There was a mutual understanding between everyone that there would be no encore. The crowd was so in tune with the performance, that the conclusion provided total contentment and everyone instinctively made their way to the exit.
Simply, this is what Young Fathers do, and will continue to do. They exist outside of the traditional live setting, and force a show on you that you can’t possibly anticipate. Their performance is a moment suspended in time, and is better appraised not as a collection of songs, but as a whole emotion. With my jaw on the floor, I walked out onto the cold streets of Deansgate with a few more reasons to see beauty in my life.
Heavy Heavy is out now on Spotify and Apple Music.
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