Clash’s Spotlight series usually looks at albums marking key anniversaries, or that are being brought back into the public eye through special shows or some other industry-standard opportunity for reappraisal.

But with Swans set to release their 13th studio set, ‘To Be Kind’, in May, we thought the moment was perfect to look and listen back to what is perhaps the most powerful studio statement in the Michael Gira-fronted New York experimental ensemble’s catalogue so far: August 2012’s incredible ‘The Seer’, spread across six sides of vinyl and just as remarkable now as it was on release.

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Swans, ‘The Seer’

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“I see it all.”

‘The Seer’ reeks of the definitive, the platonic form of Swans made real, a hellish golem raised from magma and mud. It collects the produce of the American experimentalists previous 11 albums and craftily condenses them, distilling their dusky essences in the way of an alchemist or particularly dastardly perfumier. Propelled by a ferocious fervour, its unbridled, ecstatic, musical mania feels somehow inevitable – but considered and wiser than ever before.

Joining with an impressive cast of collaborators – including Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Karen O, Iceland-based noise merchant Ben Frost, members of Akron/Family and Low – is Gira’s former partner in crime, Jarboe. Their respective inputs provide luxurious glossy highlights, the butter in the jus if you will. But they don’t dilute a thing. Some passages initially make for excruciating listening, only to shift tone dramatically, whisking you a hair’s breadth from danger and certain unbidden defecation to a plane of vibrant aural pleasure.

Constructed of distinct movements, ‘The Seer’s is a symphonic piece clocking in at over two hours in length, with a half-hour title track. You don’t listen to something so demanding overly regularly, which is possibly why over a year on it sounds as fresh as the very first time. It’s an event, like a Wagnerian opera, a marathon dictating complete surrender – music so simultaneously cerebral and dynamically physical you can feel it in your muscles, your belly and bowels.

Its refusal to compromise is sometimes claustrophobia inducing, but this is what lends ‘The Seer’ its sense of potency and emotional catharsis. The honesty and clarity of this record is rigorous and relentless. It is aggressive, reflective, dually awkward and elegant: an ordeal, but a beautiful one. The cover – a snarling/grimacing wolf leering out from the shadows – suggests both hunter and hunted. The perfect image, really, of a metaphysical monster in the dark.

Opening track ‘Lunacy’ sets the tone. An unhinged voice, leeching out of darkness over a wave of percussion and guitar builds inexorably, expansively; drums froth like waves, violins crash against harpsichord. Eventually a chorus of voices begins to chime and soften, and order seems restored, the piece becoming a madrigal. But it’s merely the calm before the storm of “lunacy” being chanted a hundred or so times. It’s a dark, dense struggle sitting between Aleister Crowley, Led Zeppelin-style paganism and the secretive mysticism of the Knights Templar. In a final Songs Of Experience-period William Blake-style flourish Gira states: “Your childhood is over.” Is it ever.

Syncopated drumming and a single panted refrain heralds ‘Mother Of The World’: a spiralling arabesque of squalling, scissor-sharp guitars and a wailing, scatting Gira. It then shifts into unbridled glam rock: an incongruous Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars jam segueing into the sleaze of ‘Sister Midnight’-era Iggy Pop. This is the beating heart and breath of the world, the universe, a diabolical Ohm. Gira’s Gaia is the “mother of senseless things,” a disappointing human race, unbalanced in our consumption and living practices.

The title track is aptly grandiose. It’s the voice of an oracle witnessing the horror and splendour of the divine in real time. It’s Carlos Castaneda vibrating in the desert on a peyote-fuelled trip, or Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s opium-induced near-death experiences. It’s Swans’ ‘The End’ or ‘Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun’. It builds and builds, tighter and faster, like a train derailing, an ever-crescendo-ing voice in the background. Around the halfway mark it is absolutely relentless – but just when it threatens to become too much, the monstrous becomes elegantly beautiful. A piano coda worthy of a Giallo horror soundtrack diffuses the endless repetition of “I’ve seen it all”. It’s pretty much better than most bands’ entire albums. However, Nietzsche has a point: “When you gaze long into the abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.” In other words, I wouldn’t listen to it on repeat too much.

In its companion piece ‘The Seer Returns’, the world is literally being torn asunder, perhaps ready for rebirth, a resurrection. Whispers of immortality flutter over its sand torn ribbon of desert sound. Then the record hurtles into batshit-crazy New York-style free jazz territory on ‘93 Ave. B Blues’. Are those dolphins screaming beside the mild-mannered credit of the “Violin type instrument”? This takes work. It’s a punishing point of no return. Yet, for all the hair shirt qualities evident here, these musicians sound as if they’re having big-time fun.

There are brief moments of relief, such as the Beefheart blues of ‘The Wolf’,  ‘The Daughter Brings The Water’ and the haunting, alt-country ballad ‘Song For A Warrior’. Gira really has to give us a few of these songs. It would be difficult to make it through without them. They’re the pause on a treacherous alpine pass, a respite from catastrophe.  The beautiful, King Crimson-recalling ‘A Piece Of The Sky’ is still apocalyptic, however. The “sun f*cks the dawn” isn’t a light hearted observation – it’s redemption, Book of Revelation style.

Abiding influences can be heard throughout, the sinister soulfulness of Howlin’ Wolf, the experimentalism of Can and the deep psychedelia of early Pink Floyd bubble under the surface. It may seem like spiritual flagellation in song but its actually closer to an aural meditation on the sublime: the danger, terror and beauty of boundlessness.

This struggle with the notion of the divine is heard on ‘The Apostate’, as a struggle with truth. We may be on “a ladder to god” but it’s definitely an Old Testament deity towards which Gira climbs. The song possesses the preposterous overblown arc of Van der Graaf Generator’s ‘Man-Erg’ but also the control of Steve Reich and other great minimalists and modernists.

This is an album that will be spoken about in decade-marking retrospectives as an epic exercise in American gothic. We may feel insignificant in our everyday lives, but music still allows us to bypass the mundane for the metaphysical if we are desperate to experience secular rapture or transcendence. As Gira himself states, “Like anyone else, I want to experience ecstasy – something greater than myself.” 

We may not fast, we may not meditate or dance ourselves into a trance and we may not imbibe large quantities of drugs (or we may) – but maybe we don’t need to. Listening to this album is a portal allowing us to touch the fleshy membrane of something else. It’s a Lovecraftian mountain, a Conradian odyssey, a Freidrichian ravine. It leaves you flayed, sensitised. It’s ancient and authoritative, a coruscating, compelling treatise on creation and destruction. So it goes.

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Words: Anna Wilson

More Spotlight features

Swans’ ‘To Be Kind’ is released by Mute on May 12th. See the band live in the UK, supported by Jenny Hval, as follows…

May
22nd – Academy 2, Manchester
23rd – Hoult’s Yard, Newcastle
24th – The Arches, Glasgow
25th – The Lemon Tree, Aberdeen
27th – Brixton Electric, London
28th – Trinity Community Arts, Bristol
29th – Sub89, Reading
31st – Supersonic Festival, Birmingham

June
1st – Cockpit, Leeds
2nd – Concorde 2, Brighton

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Stream 'The Seer' via Deezer, below…

Lou Teasdale’s close association with a particular boyband means a search of her name on Tumblr renders multiple versions of every photo in which she’s tagged, many the result of numerous Teasdale titled fan pages.

Her celebrity is such that last week’s Shoreditch launch of her debut book ‘The Craft’, was followed by four different Mail Online features; elsewhere the nude coloured heels she wore on the night have received the same ‘get the look’ treatment usually reserved for pop stars.

But far be it for Clash to discredit a whole career on the luck of taming Harry Styles’ curls, as Lou points out on page 71: “There’s no ‘fast track’ to realising your dream. You need to work hard, have a good attitude and be in it for the long haul.”

We should note here also, the Mail story with the biggest buzz was the one focusing on the actual book, shared 2,194 times; Harry and Caroline (Flack) “reuniting” was rewarded with just 177.

“I've always done beauty writing and kept blogs and I think that it was just a natural progression,” Lou tells Clash of her decision to publish. “I specialise in men and haven't done much work with female models for a long time, so I felt I needed to get it all out in a book!”

Sharing a name with the now fashionable 1996 film was no coincidence, as Lou says of her chosen title, “I wanted something that sounded creative but a bit 'culty' as well, so I was looking at some old girly films I used to love and saw ‘The Craft’. It just stuck.”

Split into six key sections such as make-up (featuring ‘the face chizzle’ and ‘smoky, smudgy, greasy eye’) and hair (‘rainbow recipes’ and ‘grunge hair’ included), the latter ‘how to be a make-up artist’ section sees Lou share both the various paths into the industry and what makes a good assistant (read: be punctual, be helpful, and don’t get your phone out if you plan on coming back).

‘The Craft’’s tone however, is young and fun: see “sexy, funky, non bridesmaidy updo” for a prime example. Both text and imagery could have been lifted from the pages of hey day era Sugar, Bliss or J-17 (no bad thing), though Lou suggests this wasn’t strictly intentional: “I didn't really get into magazines until I was a bit older and getting into fashion,” she says.

“I kind of see my style of beauty/fashion journalism as trying to bridge the gap between super cool fashion mags and teeny girl mags. I've tried to keep the trends in there but without it coming across in a pretentious way.”

Alongside her primary role, Teasdale is an ambassador for Fudge Urban, something she’s evidently proud of, having  “wanted an ambassador role for ages because I have so many ideas for brands and products. Even through social media.” It helps that she was a fan already.

The aforementioned social media mind, is a game she readily admits playing (to date her Twitter followers top 1.4 million), as she confirms, “I wouldn’t be bringing a book out if it wasn’t for the internet.”

The final page of the book too, features a ‘who to follow’ guide, quite simply a selection of Twitter handles from other make-up artists (her inspirational figures Lucy Bridge and Val Garland top the list), hair stylists, designers and Lou favoured folk; her own handle features on the book’s back cover.

“I think the Internet has changed everything,” she continues. “Things like Fashion Week didn't exist to the majority of the public before. Now it's so easily accessible. Also beauty tutorials can teach someone how to be a really good makeup artist! I remember before the Internet finding it hard to even source cool make-up images.”

Now her own image – as well as plenty of her work – fills the web. 

Tumblr, like its counterparts, is another platform Lou indulges in, and for the book it provided her dream collaborator in Faran Krentcil. “I used to re-tumble everything she put online, I was an actual fan! Anyway, when I had the idea for the book it was all illustrated in her style but I didn't think she would actually agree to do it!”

Faran agreed, and resulting aesthetic is the perhaps biggest compliment to Teasdale’s work. 

Words: Zoe Whitfield
Photography: Masha Mel/Justin Borberly

The Craft by Lou Teasdale (Hardie Grant, £9.99) is released tomorrow (1st April). You can pre-order a copy here

Related reads: Alex Brownsell: Bleach At Boots, or perhaps you'd prefer Sharmadean Reid: The WAH Nails Book Of Downtown Girls.

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Pure, blissful creation.

Bernard Butler first crossed paths with Jackie McKeown in the early '00s. Asked to produce the Glasgow artist’s then-current venture 1990s (remember this?), the guitarist threw himself into the role: challenging, probing the group, with the experiment resulting in two full-length sets of maverick art-rock.

Thankfully, they stayed in touch. “We always said we’d do something, just for a laugh,” former Suede man Butler explains. “It came about from us wanting to get together and play guitar together at the same time. That was our plan. We didn’t intend to form a group or anything, or do anything at all, really – certainly not make a record. He came down to London, I said we should get in a room and mess about.”

Recruiting a few friends, the pair embarked on lengthy sessions where they simply made music. Freed from any constraints, the two friends were able to channel their energies in the loosest manner possible – ultimately forming their new group, Trans, alongside two further members, Igor Volk and Paul Borchers. “We don’t use references,” Butler insists. “We never use musical reference points, we never sit around listening to records. I think all the stuff we’re talking about is stuff that we have inherently just learned over the years, that’s just the way we think about things and that’s why we just get on. I think from the start we knew that the character of what we did together would complement and be in tune with each other. It was just about whether or not we’d do anything interesting from that.”

Recording everything, Butler would then sift through the epic jam sessions to find moments of clarity, of unexpected vision, to string together into something more coherent. “It’s all set up so I just press record and then pick up the guitar and we play, as everything is recorded,” he explains. “Every time we play, we record everything. That’s where a lot of the music comes from. On the record, everything has come from improvisations. I mean, everything. Everything you hear, to varying degrees.”

A long, potentially laborious task, Butler quickly found that this cut ‘n’ paste, mosaic-like method of composition was enormously freeing, resulting in all manner of unexpected sounds and combinations.

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"We’re just four musicians who have made records before, trying to challenge ourselves…"

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“All sorts of dynamics would change, and that’s what we really like about it,” he enthuses. “The fact that it’s very human, and it’s just whatever happened that day. It’s whatever happened and it was never going to happen again. We wanted to show what happens when four people go in a room. What really happens.” He snorts, before adding: “Not what happens when four people think about it, do an interview, write a song and then go in and spend four months with a producer and cut it all up in Pro Tools and do it with a click track, or whatever. I’d done all of those things, and it’s all great and I’ve made a lot of those records, but they don’t interest me anymore. I really wanted to go in a room and say, this is what actually happened. What you’re listening to is what actually happened on that day. Nothing else happened.”

Of course, not everything Trans recorded is worthy of public consumption, as Butler readily admits. “There’s lots of shit on there as well, obviously… un-useable nonsense!” he laughs. “That’s why it’s so diverse – we’re just trying to see what happens. We’re just four musicians who have made records before, trying to challenge ourselves. Saying: ‘I wonder what happens if we just go in a room without a song and just play something?’ An awful lot of people you would say that to would be terrified. They’d say: ‘What do you mean? Play what?’ It’s hard to explain that. You have to have the right people to get that.”

Starting slowly, Trans initially released their debut EP last year with scant information supplied about the musicians behind it. Live shows, too, were sporadic, with the band deliberately deciding to play tiny venues. “We’re trying to point people to the music at all times,” Butler says. “We’re not trying to point them to a fussy video, or a photo, or a video session, all that kind of rubbish. We’re just trying to point them at all times to just hear the music, to be intrigued by it. My favourite records, my favourite groups, are people that I’m intrigued by.”

“They’re not things that I’ve had shoved in my face for months on end,” he continues. “My favourite things are things that somebody you like will tell you about, or you’ll just hear out of the blue and you’ll try and search for. I wanted people to discover it in that way, because that’s the way I like hearing things myself.”

Colour-coding each release, Trans are aiming to build up a small yet unique catalogue, objects to be treasured by fans. “We’re colour coding them and that becomes a reference, the sleeve design essentially becomes the same for everyone and the colours can change. The design can subtly change, but they see it as the same thing. Basically, when we started thinking about releasing things, we wanted to look back in a year’s time and see a pile of records on the shelf and that each one would have a great spine and we would know what was on it and just start collecting like that, as EPs.”

Recorded live in the studio with no aim, no clear end in sight, the work Trans have offered thus far is an unexpectedly fresh ode to the guitar. Not in an endless Clapton blues-worship sense, of course, but something rather more challenging, more visceral and with more personality. “I think [Jackie and I are] both frustrated guitar players,” he insists. “I mean, this country’s sort of got a lack of great guitar players at the moment, or great records that are genuine. I hate the guitar record thing, because then you get ‘guitar groups’, that sort of thing. That suggests some sort of dodgy indie band. Whenever you get that coming along, actually they’re fairly shit anyway. They’re just typical skinny boys with skinny jeans and a guitar, but actually not doing anything very interesting.”

Finishing, Butler looks back on his own formative influences, the people who first inspired him to pick up the guitar. “I think there’s something with the sound of a guitar when it has a personality and a voice of its own, something the great guitar players always had. From Mick Ronson to Tom Verlaine to the great guitarists of the '90s, where I was lucky enough to be part of that period where there were three, four people who were really good and what they did lasted and made quite an impact.”

“I think since that period there’s been almost nobody,” he reflects. “I think we’ve forgotten what happens if you’ve got one person in a room who really knows how to play guitar, standing next to a drum kit and there’s nobody with a clear idea, nobody timing it, just making a noise. It’s the most straightforward, bare thing you can think of. It’s unbeatable.”

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Trans' new EP, 'Green', is out now.

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Introducing himself with the recent (and quite sublime) EP 'Pulsing', Tomas Barford is wasting no time in progressing.

Completing work on his debut album, the results will be gathered on 'Love Me'. Due for release on June 9th via Secretly Canadian, the full length features Barford's gorgeous production and a host of guests.

Luke Temple (of Here We Go Magic fame), Dead Oceans artist Night Beds and constant collaborator Nina K all appear on the album, with Tomas Barford placing a mix online.

It's short, sadly, but tantalising in the extreme…

Alongside this, a very special album cut will be given a standalone pressing on Record Store Day. 'True To You' features the dulcet tones of Gruff Rhys – check it out below.

Finally, Tomas Barfod has confirmed the following shows:

May
8 London Birthdays
10 Brighton Green Door Store

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Effectively the Canadian equivalent of the BRITs, the Juno Awards always manages to surprise.

This year proved to be no exception. Returning last night (March 30th) big winners included Arcade Fire, who scooped both Album Of The Year and Alternative Album Of The Year.

Accepting their award via video link in South America, Arcade Fire were joined on the winners podium by the likes of Tegan & Sara, Serena Ryder and more.

Justin Bieber won the Fan's Choice Award at the Junos, but failed to turn up. Boos rang out around the arena, with the award instead being collected by members of Canada's Olympic women's curling team. (via BBC)

Elsewhere, controversial hip hop production unit A Tribe Called Red won Breakthrough Group Of The Year. The trio match First Nations influences with electronic music, and recently crafted a beat for Angel Haze.

Full list of winners.

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A bit of French canoodling here, a bit of smoking jacket lounge there, a prog-rock aesthetic playing a bank of synths the Norwegian electro pacemaker needs to abseil down, and managing the lineage of what’s cheesy, what’s high-end funk and what’s music to take lifts by. The artwork, the title: this is the unveiling of Terje Olsen’s big top circus.

All performed with good, non-satirical heart. Prominent amongst the glitter ball gambolling and avenging of the Airwolf theme, ‘Svensk Sås’ chatters in a tailspin of button-bashing Latino, a one-man show breaking into a wide-grinned groove. ‘Strandbar’ shows the entertainer backing his dancefloor chops with a piano house-r exiting the cosmic disco, and ‘Inspector Norse’ comes as a bubbly, sincere drop of the curtain.

Headset-wearing adventures sweep in and out of a bowtie-loosening, debate-starting, sword-falling performance of Robert Palmer’s ‘Johnny And Mary’ (!) by Bryan Ferry (!!) (audio below). It takes all the fun out of the album (let alone the hiring of a Renault), but it may make you well up as it slow dances through a blizzard of dry ice.

Though bizarre in its mid-tracklist positioning – working as the album’s full stop surely would have been better – Terje comes out the other side ready to invigorate for a second time, a mite more determined and showing disheartenment (or getting too high, for that matter) shouldn’t last too long.

Its encased plasticity doesn’t mask any novelty. Athletic brightness betters gaudiness while wearing ’80s fashions well, banging out rhythms with fingers that’ve have just come from the cake bowl. It’s album time, and Terje feels epic.

8/10

Words: Matt Oliver

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Madcap Canadian Mac DeMarco is back with LP proper number two, ‘Salad Days’, on which he overlays the deceptively complex slacker-rock of his debut (actually titled ‘2’, to be awkward) with shimmering psychedelic flourishes.

‘Salad Days’ is an endearingly odd album, at times like a lucid dream in which you’re swimming through a muddied haze of dazzling colours. ‘Passing Out Pieces’ (audio below) and ‘Brother’ exemplify his brilliantly bizarre approach to songcraft.

The lazy melodies, off-kilter vocals and haphazard, plaintive strumming all converge to produce a record of fragmented brilliance. Ultimately, ‘Salad Days’ is an aural testament to the old adage that there’s a fine line between genius and insanity.

8/10

Words: Benji Taylor

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Related: read our interview with Mac from 2013. (Warning: contains pubes.)

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Stream ‘Salad Days’ in full on Deezer…

The Clash DJ Mix series is now over four years old.

It's been a funny old journey. Begun during the death throes of (the original) MySpace, we've been able to trace a merry path ever since.

In that time we've seen genres come and go, reputations built and shattered whilst supplying exclusive audio for your dance delectation each and every Thursday.

Somehow, we've managed to evade kicking off a SoundCloud account – until now. Yep, Clash has got the bug and we'll be gradually uploading our extensive DJ Mix archive to the service over the coming weeks.

To whet your appetites, we've pulled out three big hitters…

Andrew Weatherall needs no introduction, having stayed ahead of the game for more than two decades. An esteemed DJ, producer and all round cultural scribe, his Clash DJ Mix flits between left field electronics and shoegaze, dub reggae and all out funk.

Clash got in there early with Jimmy Edgar – back in 2010 the Hot Flush aligned producer tailored a mix for our needs, focussing purely on the dancefloor.

!!! don't craft mixes for just anybody, y'know, and their Clash Mix is aimed at the more blissful, down tempo end of our series: "a mellow mix to do mellow things to" indeed…

Check 'em out below, or follow Clash on SoundCloud HERE.

Follow Clash on SoundCloud HERE.

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Still delivering thought-provoking anthems of utmost quality, Welsh trio Manic Street Preachers played Leeds’ First Direct Arena on March 28th – and Clash was there to shoot them.

The band – James Dean Bradfield, Nicky Wire and Sean Moore – has been an active concern since the mid-1980s, and while not-quite-founder member Richey Edwards’ disappearance in 1995 naturally affected the band’s momentum, if anything they came back stronger after the loss: 1996’s ‘Everything Must Go’ marked both compelling creative rebirth and the band’s greatest commercial success.

Their Leeds date saw material from their forthcoming 12th studio album ‘Futurology’ debuted, including the set’s title-cut and another song called ‘Europa Geht Durch Mich’. Alongside these brand-new offerings came shadows of their past – ‘Black Dog On My Shoulder’ was played live for the first time since the late 1990s – and a clutch of fan favourites: ‘Faster’, ‘Motown Junk’, ‘You Love Us’ and, of course, the stirring ‘A Design For Life’, which closed the show.

Check out Clash’s gallery above (click each photo to switch to the next). All photos by Danny Payne (website).

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Soul sensation Ella Eyre is standing in the middle of a bumper car arena, surrounded by awestruck people staring up at her from tiny dodgems. Surreal.

The evening’s been pretty surreal already. Clash is here to see Ella play a special Nokia Lumia Live Sessions set, the latest of their nationwide series of free music shows combining new talent with unexpected venues.

It's an old fairground museum – and all of the retro rides have been open for the last hour. We’re feeling sick from too many turns on the waltzer – that, and copious pots of free candyfloss.

“It’s going to be really nice to do an intimate, acoustic session,” Ella tells Clash before her performance. “I’m very excited to see how it pans out. It’s quite a magical experience.” She begins with ‘Don’t Follow Me’, a fast and soulful track accompanied by powerful vocals which contrast with the chilled acoustics coming from four backing musicians.

Immediately, the crowd is completely hushed by Ella’s stunningly natural and effortless vocal talent – hard to describe without delivering a truckload of oxymorons. Her vocals are delicate yet powerful, clear as well as husky and vulnerable but strong, in equal measures. 

After a delicious cover of Basement Jaxx’s ‘Good Luck’ there’s something from her autumn-bound debut that she hasn’t played before. ‘Alone Too’ is delicate, raw and somewhat sombre, rolling up to a crescendo which leaves Ella crouching with the intensity of her vocals.

She delivers a near-on perfect rendition of Rudimental’s ‘Waiting All Night’ which proves that she can stand on her own two feet without the help from those “very cheeky four boys from Hackney,” as well as a play of her gorgeous and melodic next single release, ‘If I Go’.

She struts off to customary cries for an encore, as the tiny audience longs to be spellbound for just a few more minutes. She comes back with just an acoustic guitarist and sings her biggest solo track to date, ‘Deeper’, while sat on the corner of a dodgem. It’s a special moment.

The set is over far too quickly and audience members gaze around at each other, all too aware of the complete privilege of seeing one of the most amazing vocal talents of recent pop history. There’s only one way to describe tonight, and that is, in Ella’s words, “magical”. 

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Words: Hana Barten

Online: Nokia Lumia Live Sessions

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