Serafina Steer has taken her launch of ‘The Moths Are Real’ back to where it all began – St Leonard’s Church on the border of Shoreditch and Hackney. The church stands out like a sore thumb at the mouth of Old Street and has a calendar as eclectic as its surroundings, from gay men’s choirs singing Christmas carols to a traditional Sunday service. It was also the place where much of Serafina’s third album was recorded, creating a roomy and serene setting for the musician’s trademark harp to sing out in all its glory. It’s a delight to hear it here with a full audience watching.
The record, produced by Jarvis Cocker, is a treat in itself – the latest in quirky folk, stripped back, quintessentially English with a twist of psychedelia, and remarkably sweet.
Live, Serafina’s music is equally as lovely. The harp takes centre stage, of course, but is accompanied by keys, cello, violin and some subtle but staggeringly wonderful percussion along with the posh pronunciations of her almost spoken vocals, like an English rose Victoria Bergsman. Jarvis even joins the stage for some tambourine and howling wind, along with other musician guests throughout the night.
Despite an incredible band, it’s Serafina’s voice and song-writing that warrants our full attention, from the frantic vocals of ‘Skinny Dipping’, as dreamy and weird as the Incredible String Band, to the angelic ‘World of Love’, like Bonnie "Prince" Billy meets Kate Bush.
At times she’s as spiritual as Bat for Lashes’ Natasha Khan, singing about alien invasions while bathed in green light or telling a tale of how much she hates Brick Lane, "just like everybody else does." These are the songs that put a smile on her audience’s face, feet tapping to the tinny casio beats she plays along with. It’s as sweet as a '60s children’s TV show.
But the songs that stay with us after the music ends are much deeper. ‘Night Before Mutiny’, based on an old sea shanty about a girl called Serafina and sounding like a '60s Lee Hazlewood Bond theme, if such a thing should ever exist, is stunning from start to end. ‘Has Anyone Ever Liked You?’ skips along as innocent as a baby deer while ‘Island Odessy’ (is the incorrect spelling an ode to The Zombies?) jumps to baroque in a subtle, yet still obvious departure from previous numbers. Being a young folky harp player, it must be difficult to escape the Joanna Newsom comparisons, but it’s only really ‘The Moths Are Real’ that channels the Californian’s eclectic melodies and story-telling and that by no means is a bad thing here. It’s just lovely.
Words by Gemma Hampson