Written by Niamh Mcgregor
Albert Hall’s overlooking balcony is the perfect place to people watch and, from here, a mixed demographic emerged from the crowd below. Huddles of fresh-faced 20-or-so-year olds mingled alongside middle-aged couples, and my assumption of the underlying commonality was a love of 6 music. Marc Riley has been pushing Aldous Harding for some time and as the hall swells with people, it seems people are listening.
All instruments onstage are angled to face a central chair. A foreshadowing of the night to come, where all would be captivated by the presence onstage. Gathering in this previous place of worship, we have come to offer our attention to Aldous Harding.
This is a one stop of many on Aldous’s tour, which had been postponed in 2022. The original tour’s purpose was likely to promote her fourth album Warm Chris, which followed on the heels of her breakthrough success Designer. Her work may best be described as art-pop with a folk-tinge but her music does seem to squirm away from one specific genre. The softly offbeat songs with uniquely poetic lyrics speak for themselves. An artist with a similar sense of music is H. Hawkline, who was the support act of the night.
As Hawkline strode on, silver bangle glinting, there was a noticeable lack of people onstage. Instead of a band, a comically oversized tape recorder accompanied his vocals throughout the night; interesting choice, Mr. Hawkline. Each song was followed by a planned pause on the tape recorder and, humbly, these pauses were shorter than the time taken for applause to die.
Most songs were from his latest ‘Milk for Flowers’, a gently lilting album which has been criminally overlooked since it’s release. Specifically, ‘Suppression Street’ allowed for an appreciation for his vaguely mournful, gorgeously high vocals. Having been to a previous H. Hawkline gig at YES, I found myself missing the sound of the live saxophone which had added a slight roughness to the general softness of his music.
During the break, a haze of expectance settled over the crowd before the band drifted onstage to settle at their instruments. Hawkline’s familiar face could be seen in the background, back on bass. Applause sounded as Aldous Harding emerged, surveying the crowd with a bemused smile and an intense look. The set began as she uttered, “I’m open. But we’re going to do this my way”.
The set intermingled a mixture of songs from Designer and Warm Chris. Designer‘s tracks emanated a slightly warmer feel with Aldous’s acoustic being the forefront, whilst Warm Chris’ had a cleaner, more simplistic sound. As she plays, it is hard to resist maintaining a constant humming along with her melodies, trying to find her beat and gain a closeness. That was a common goal within the crowd. Harding maintained heavy eye contact with us throughout, alongside that strange smile that instilled slight discomfort. There was a palpable craving for her attention, found within every member of the audience.
Aldous Harding ignited a stillness within us, with a slight bob and sway being the maximum movement permitted. Anticipation, too, was present throughout the gig, the spacious songs and sparse interactions encouraging it. You got the feeling that minimalism and stillness was much more her style. And, as she said, we were going to do this her way. This, however, is not to imply a lack of movement onstage. With a scrunched-up face, elbows shifted back and a shrinking, open posture, Aldous danced.
Personally, my night peaked during ‘Old Peel’. Joyous ecstasy took over as I was brought full circle back to the song that had introduced me to Aldous Harding. Staccato piano overlayed with ambivalent vocals and underlayed with an unrelenting drumbeat. Melodies are the focus of Aldous’ songs, complemented by a basic, almost childlike, background.
Although applause seemed to be more of a discomfort to her, we enticed her back for an encore. A closing tableau of Aldous Harding seated with her guitar as the final, obscure, winding song played out. Simply a melting of acoustic guitar and lyrical poetry, this final performance marked a break from stage presence. The song choice allowed a moment of pure appreciation for some of the more fundamental aspects of her musical talent, with the beautifully sentimental vocals shining through. When the yarn of chords had finally unravelled, Aldous trustingly rested her head on her guitar – an old and pure friendship.
The homeward conversation was on the paranormal, the unknown and witches. What else is there to discuss after watching a seemingly supernatural entity?