Turin Brakes, Live at Queen Elizabeth Hall, May 10th
Written for The Seventh Hex
Folk duo Turin Brakes return to their native London for a stunning performance at Southbank’s Queen Elizabeth Hall, performing songs from We Were Here, the band’s sixth studio album.
Accompanied by their two long-term collaborators, Turin Brakes step onto the stage, introducing themselves with a simple “Well, here we all are” – a sense of awkward humour, characteristic to many of the best British folk bands. The band opens tonight’s show with the first four tracks from We Were Here, released in September last year. A soft riff from the acoustic guitar, gradually joined by the bass and the drums proves to be the perfect opening for an album, not to mention for a live show – with “In pillbox red I paint my door, a symbol and a signal of the coming war…” the first few lines of the lyrics to Time and Money standing out as an instance of these musicians’ skilful songwriting.
Olly Knights and guitarist Gale Paridjanian were friends long before forming the band in 1999. The sense of holding on to old memories runs deep not only in the music of Turin Brakes but also in the background stories Knights shares with the audience: “Last time me and Gale were in this room together was when we sang in the choir, that was when we were nine years old,” he says, and with a smile adds, “I think we still sound the same”. Quite fittingly, We Were Here follows. As the feelings of reminiscence and nostalgia of this title track take a hold of the audience, it’s certainly charming to picture these two musicians, now enjoying highly successful careers, as nine year old boys standing on the stage, probably never imagining that years on they’d be gracing that very same venue with their presence. For a band to have such a strong sense of friendship amongst its members, and for it to reach out to the audience in a live performance, is really something special.
For Dear Dad, Turin Brakes are joined by Paul on flute (apparently also a doctor), who steps in quietly during the guitar solo – strumming guitars, heavy drums and lively flute playing creating a perfect combination. Then, in bluish subdued light kaleidoscope patterns entwine, projected onto a screen behind the band to create a psychedelic backdrop to already David Gilmour-esque echoing guitar notes. Blindsided Again is a six-minute-long foray from wailing solos into heavy guitars, which hypnotises the audience before coming to an incredibly mesmerising ending on more delicate notes. From the back of the hall, through the roaring applause, someone shouts “FANTASTIC!” – I couldn’t agree more.
Rewinding back to 2001, and an older The Optimistic LP, The Door by comparison is mellow and stripped down. Pale lights beam across the Queen Elizabeth Hall like headlights shining through blinds, shifting across bedroom walls. Olly Knights takes a moment to introduce Rob Allum on drums and Eddie Meyer on bass. “Paul the doctor” returns to the stage for the saxophone part of Guess You Heard – a song emblematic of Turin Brakes’ work: upbeat and optimistic, yet always with a slight sense of nostalgia. After a soothing Erase Everything, the band returns once more to older work, with the familiar slide intro of Future Boy and a brilliant Emergency 72, one of the songs which best accentuates Knights’ distinctive voice. He shares with this extremely enthusiastic audience the band’s recent, disappointing experience at SXSW – “which is more of a festival for young bands”, he jokes, and it’s clear that they recognise a certain distance between themselves and so many of the younger generations of bands they’ve no doubt been an influence for. Knights explains that rather than bad-mouthing, they “wrote a little song about it”. The chorus goes “I miss my house, I miss my garden, I miss my kids”, and one thinks yep, definitely not a young band – but jokes aside, Turin Brakes’ music is distinguished by a certain sophistication which does tend to come more easily with experience. Nonetheless, their heartfelt music still speaks to both older and younger generations, as becomes evident with a single look out onto the crowd gathered here tonight.
With the upbeat nostalgia of Painkiller and Fishing for a Dream, the band announces that “technically we’ve come to the end of our setlist”. An emotional Long Distance starts off tame to slowly explode into a heavy, overwhelming climax on the chorus “I let somebody get under my skin, long distance losing is all that I’ve seen”, to bring Turin Brakes’ show to a brilliant closure. After a well-deserved standing ovation, Turin Brakes return to the stage with a peculiar and perfect encore – Knights dedicates the cover song to his mother for her birthday, and the band performs a beautifully eerie Chim Chim Cher-ee. They are then joined on stage by Dublin duo Hudson Taylor with whom they perform a hand-clapping song written together. There follows a vibrant Underdog (Save Me), and as the band leaves the stage the audience continues to cry for more, more, more. They return with No Mercy for a second encore, and finally, “if you want to stand up and dance now is probably the time” – cue for everyone in the audience to stand up, to end the set with an upbeat, rockier Slack. Turin Brakes reaches the end of their brilliant performance, of which the only weakness is perhaps to not have played any tracks from previous recent albums, such as from Outbursts. But with such a strong sense of sincerity and emotion throughout each and every song, and such an engaging live presence, it’s not hard to let them off.
Turin Brakes’ tour continues, visit their website for dates.