It’s felt like a while since I was last at a full scale show in St James Concert Hall but there was definitely a sense of expectation ahead of this one on Saturday 14th May 2022, for a few reasons.
First was that Jesca Hoop had come so highly recommended that, even having never heard her music before, I was looking forward to her set, and second was that Gregory Harrison was debuting his new backing, The Bare Minimum.
It was Harrison and his new compatriots who started the night and, as they were taking to the stage, it was hard to avoid comments along the lines of ‘is this just a new version of The Recks then?’
This was down to the presence in the band of Ash Jarman on cornet and backing vocals and Claire Moxie on drums, who had shared the stage with Greg previously in that outfit, but it soon became clear that that rather reductive view was entirely off the mark.
Completed by Elliot Mariess on bass and Jon Sealey on keys The Bare Minimum took a mixture of Greg’s previously heard songs, along with a few brand new ones, and helped their leader realise them in the way (it seemed like) he had always hoped, if not entirely intended.
It was clear it took a few songs for both band and audience to get into it but once they did the songs began to soar.
Just the addition of Sealey’s piano would likely have elevated the songs but the full band took it even further with Jarman’s backing vocals, Mariess’ steady bass lines and Moxie’s drums backing Harrison’s already impressive sound and taking it somewhere totally new.
A particular highlight was seeing Moxie add a new rhythmic string to her bow, so to speak, as she helped find the swing and groove of these often somber songs.
The second half of the set provided the real high points with Low and Baby, Baby sounding particularly epic before they ended the set on Demons, a stand out full band track from Greg’s first EP, but revived in exhilarating fashion here live with a full band for the first time.
For a first show by a new band this was terrific and hinted at greater things to come as they settle into the new arrangement, while Greg hinted that this was just the start as well as he later told me he has a whole raft of new songs waiting to find their way from his acoustic guitar, through the band, and out into the world – and it’s a journey I’m very much looking forward to seeing and hearing.
Following such an impressive debut set was no doubt a challenge, but one that Hollie Thorne, accompanied by Jon Sealey (this time on guitar as well as keys, and frankly showing off somewhat – though when you’re that talented that’s no bad thing), stepped up to almost effortlessly.
Her somewhat naive stagecraft belied the beautiful songs but presented them in an all the more honest way because of this as the songs felt like they washed around the hall.
Understated compared to the previous full band, but no less impressive for it, the highlights may have been the more recognisable likes of Scales-Weights and Bunny, Bunny but the set as a whole had the feeling of being the soundtrack to your favourite indie movie, just no one has made the film yet.
Hollie’s voice was as impressive as ever while her guitar playing, backed by Jon’s acoustic or electric guitar or electric piano filled the hall impressively for a duo and the overall feel had a looseness that teetered on the edge of collapse in places but in a way that made it all the more captivating.
With the hall (laid out ‘cabaret’ style) full there was a definite sense of anticipation as Gregory Harrison introduced Jesca Hoop and, as she plucked the first delicate notes from her guitar, the audience was instantly captivated and remained so for the following hour and a bit as she, and her pair of fellow musicians, took us on a journey through her world of indie folk.
I’ll admit I was unfamiliar with Hoop’s music before tonight but was grabbed right away by the sense of contradiction she presented as modern themes collided with traditional sounds but played on modern instruments and aspects of English folk were sung in a gentle Californian twang along with stories that trod the line between reality and fantasy in a marvellously inventive way.
After starting out with just her and a guitar she was joined by Rachel Rimmer on guitar, electronic drums and additional vocals and then later in the set Tom Piper on bass (who had an odd feeling of being a folk version of Nirvana’s Krist Novoselic), developing an fantastically deep sound that filled the room in a mesmerising manner.
Hoop and Rimmer’s joint vocal delivery was astonishing and, as the set went on, Hoop’s truly poetic soul revealed itself through the songs and their related stories all presented with an understated and knowing presence that kept the audience gripped even while they tuned up.
Along with all of this she built a terrific relationship with the audience which had a great sense of fun, openness and a kind of nurturing inclusivity, despite the often darker hue of the songs, balancing the feel of the performance as a whole in a masterful manner.
A standing ovation called for an encore at the end of the set which Hoop delivered entirely a capella, if anything with even more captivating presence that previously, closing the show on one of its most impressive moments though I got the feeling the audience would have been happy if she’d carried on playing all night.
This all made Jesca Hoop’s set one of the best I can recall from a visiting artist while Hollie Thorne and Gregory Harrison & The Bare Minimum provided a fine example of the level of talent producing original music in Guernsey today.
You can see more of my photos from the show on my Facebook page by clicking here