TAKING LONDON BY SONG
Not for the first time, I’m sitting in a plane on my way to a concert in London. This time however, I’m going to see a concert featuring Maltese bands and artists, not foreign ones. It’s not a new experience either; I did the same thing last year for the first time, attending the first edition of the Malta Takes London event. When I got back from last year’s event, somebody here asked me why I flew all the way to London to watch Maltese acts that one might easily get to see perform here in Malta. Other than the fact that an opportunity to catch up with those London-based Maltese acts I don’t get to see as often isn’t one to pass up, the more important reason is that watching a local act perform outside of its comfort zone is always more exciting, as much for whoever is onstage as it is for the audience. And in this regard, as was the case last year too, the 2014 edition of Malta Takes London did not disappoint.
Clearly boosted by the turnout at last year’s event, the organizers thought to boost the original 6-act line-up to 8 acts, which meant an earlier start and a tighter schedule to stick to. It also meant less time for changeovers and more traffic in and out of the venue for a breath of fresh air or a smoke (delete as applicable), which I felt may have thwarted the overall vibe and flow of the event, as well as some people missing the start of some of the acts in the process.
The early start naturally meant that the venue was only particularly full by the time Berne opened the evening, though this didn’t really affect her performance. Since moving to London fairly recently, Berne’s act has clearly evolved and in no small way either. Her presence is contemplative and the atmosphere sombre, making her adopted craft of building up each song an integral part of the act. A main focal point of the performance, her electronic meandering is strongly underpinned by the organic quality of the piano-driven songs on offer, among them the delectably introspective-as-ever India and the rather impressive In the woods.
In contrast, Yews onstage presentation comes across as more relaxed. Her songs possess a certain naivety that is reflected as much in their minimal electronic arrangements as it is in her alternating vocal turns, at times deadpan, at times lulling. Compared to the versions on her gorgeous Selene EP, the live renditions on the night seem a bit rough around the edges, even with a little help from her friends on backing vocals, but they lose none of their appeal.
Perhaps even rougher round the edges, but deliberately so, are Fuzzhoneys, the all-girl duo that is certainly one of the most exciting revelations on the local scene this year. Brandishing a dirty Blues template that they skew and shape to fit their own design, the two young ladies show no sign of nerves and seem completely at ease as they plough through a spellbinding set of short, sharp and powerful songs dripping with a rock ‘n roll attitude that so many bands these days seem to have lost.
Bringing the night to the halfway mark, Carrie Haber steps in and tinkles her way into the hearts of all those present. Bright red of hair, the cutest of smiles and as bubbly a personality as ever, she has certainly mastered the art of blending her intimate music with an outward presentation that stretches out to every corner of the venue and reels in every person there. Her set includes new song Satellite, which she explains is linked to “a transition that will probably see her performing with a whole new set-up” in the near future. Less playful as some of her signature numbers the song, although still a work-in-progress, already packs a powerful hook that may well lead to bigger things. Curious? I know I am.
Like Carrie Haber, Dana McKeon has established some firm roots within the London music scene, albeit operating in a different scenario. A confirmed heavyweight in UK and international beatboxing circles, McKeon is also an accomplished singer-songwriter in her own right and onstage, (accompanied by James on electric guitar) she brings together both worlds into one entertaining set. The songs off her recent debut EP sink in well with the audience but as expected, her beat-boxing talents never fail to give her performance extra flavour.
Around 9.30pm, The Cosmic Erotic step onstage. An unknown quantity to most people present, the band has only given a handful of live performances in Malta, each one bringing them countless new fans. I was particularly impressed by the fluidity at the core of their music when I first saw them, and it is present here too; the spaces in the music as vital as every note that is played. Their music defies categorization – it rocks, it rolls, it’s not immediate but it lingers on in the mind, presented in one of the most engaging performances I’ve witnessed this year.
They’ve only given a couple of performances in Malta, so Canvas Wall largely owes its well-oiled live act to the London scene, really. It’s a performance that oozes confidence a-plenty, with the band rising to the occasion to serve a rousing set of rocking numbers that many of us (especially their fanbase) are still humming at the end of the set. The new songs are a confirmation that melody is still king in the world of Canvas Wall’s rock.
The final act on the night is NoSnow/NoAlps, who like The Cosmic Erotic and Fuzzhoneys flew in especially for this concert. Their performance was also tied to the UK release of their latest EP Go Go Go Go, which incidentally also provides the bulk of their live set on this particular night. Perhaps better known for their upbeat, spirited performances, the rare quiet(er) moments they’ve experimented with recently bring out a different side that adds an interesting contrast to the band’s sound, particularly onstage.
Eight bands later and the second edition of Malta Takes London is done and dusted. Everyone I speak to post-gig tells me they had a great time, to which I have to add that the availability of a certain Maltese lager and a particularly popular cheesy snack also provided added value. A year on from that first edition, I would still like to see more foreigners at this event along with the Maltese ex-patriates who already show their support. It is evident that the event has the potential to grow, but not without proper funding and support, and it will definitely need to find a bigger venue. As far as this particular event goes however, it was a great success once again. Well done, all!
An edited version of this article was first published on The Sunday Times of Malta (19 October, 2014)
Group photo by Gianluca Pulvirenti
Other photos by Michael Bugeja