Look, my experiences of live folk music have been pretty limited. You could pretty much list them on the back of a postage stamp. That said, when the opportunity came knocking, I decided it was time to remedy the fact. And – you know what? I wasn’t disappointed.
Arriving at Kings Place on Saturday evening I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. The venue itself though is pretty stunning: a huge multi-disciplinary arts centre that’s been part of the extensive re-generation around Kings Cross in recent years. (When you step inside it hints that you’re in for an interesting evening.) Much more concert hall than gig venue. Think glass and wooden panelling rather than back room of a Camden pub.
The evening was split into two parts. The first half of the concert was the unveiling of an unusual soundscape. Created by Chris Watson it had been recorded up in Norfolk, on The Wash, a bay and estuary of marshland, notable for both its tides and wildlife. Consisting of recorded sounds of the tide turning and the varied wildlife that live on the beach, the soundscape evoked images of the landscapes that are so significant to Lau. It was not quite what I was expecting on a Saturday night- sat in the dark in what felt like an immersive experience and very much like being by the coast (- but an impressive creation which worked well as an overture for the group).
Formed in Scotland back in 2006, Lau are a band who have gained a cult-like following and loyal audience. The group comprises of Kris Drever, Martin Green and Aidan O’Rourke and between them they weave vocals, guitar, accordion, fiddle and electronic components to create folk music that flows between classic, traditional and experimental. They’ve collaborated with the likes of Jack Bruce (of Cream) and The Unthanks, produced four studio albums and won Best Group at the BBC Folk Awards.
The banner slung across the group’s stage read “We Love the NHS” (apparently their typical stage apparel). It’s a nod to the fact that they’re generally considered to have a political conscience. That said, I’m not sure that many of the audience would be likely to disagree with the sentiment, so I wondered if it wasn’t acting as an echo chamber statement. After all, I doubt many members of the audience would disagree with the sentiment or be opposed to the NHS.
As they took to the stage the group made affable chit chat with their audience, although minimal. Overall this was definitely more concert than gig. And an opportunity to see a group of musicians clearly highly capable and comfortable with one another deftly moving from one piece of music to another. Consequently – as essentially a newcomer to both them and the genre – I’m not sure I fully engaged with some of the performance but let the lyricism and atmosphere of the show wash over me. Their mix of more trad sounding fiddle solos mixed with more esoteric ingredients (such as metronomes), proved that the group’s live shows are certainly inventive.
The band’s most recent album has been described (by themselves) as a “Brexit album”. And whilst not overtly political in its messaging, some of the show certainly reflected the sentiments of these crazy times. The mixture of more lively, upbeat instrumental compared with the gorgeously, deeply melancholic “Dark Secret” which touches on themes of alcoholism and drinking. Much of their onstage chemistry and movement seemed to be about breaking apart from one another in the space; playing together then separating, then looping back together in a way that flowed with the music.
Overall I found much to admire in Lau’s live show. The artistry and capabilities of the group are significant and impressive. In some ways I found it hard to access the world or emotion that they were creating. But I could see that underneath – perhaps with more time and listening – there was something I could get a lot from there.