The Rose Hill, Brighton
Friday, 21st April 2023
For one evening only, a small corner of Brighton shone like a beacon. It probably does that a lot – it’s that kind of town – but it was a privilege to be there to witness it. With a trip to London planned and a lodging secured in Croydon (thanks Alan!), the stars aligned to ensure that this particular show became possible. Even the worst that the M25 et al could throw my way failed to stop it and at about 8.15 we stumbled into the pleasing warmth of The Rose Hill, about 10 minutes walk from the station.
It was more than encouraging to see a “Sorry, Sold Out” sign on the door and once inside the place was clearly full, but in a comfortable rather than sardines way. Crayola Lectern were already playing so it was difficult to get a lay of the land initially. Having secured some particularly delicious ale, the L-shaped nature of the room became apparent, and after inching through the throng to the apex it was still only possible to catch fleeting glimpses of Crayola’s piano maestro Chris Anderson (via a cunningly placed decorative mirror) and electronics wizard Al Strachan (by craning around a pillar) for much of the set, however a better vantage point eventually presented itself in front of the mixing desk in the initially invisible area up some steps behind the bar.
The descriptive ‘what psychedelic music would have sounded like had the Edwardians invented it’ is highly accurate, the music wonderfully delicate, warm and engaging, dripping with pathos and deeper than the piano, voice and trumpet (and other things) instrumentation would suggest. It was so easy to get fully wrapped into it all; the world-weariness of Anderson’s voice against the deft piano was perfectly matched to Strachan’s contributions, and the songs shimmered into life, full of arch meaning, sad happiness and an uplifting comfort in the fragility of the delivery.
A complete joy, and it was lovely to grab a few words with Mr Anderson afterwards and thank him for an absolutely magical experience. Next time I’ll definitely be there early to grab a front row cushion.
Chloe Herrington and Emma Sullivan, both formerly of Chrome Hoof, are up next. Chloe may be familiar from her contributions to Knifeworld and others, but Valve is her long-standing electronic project, now on its second album and with a bunch of other releases too in the last few years. Her saxophone is deployed sparingly within the found-sound electronica, keyboards and bass. Both she and Emma sing and the songs range from rhythmic pop to abstract sound collages.
It’s fascinating to watch a barefooted Chloe manipulating an array of pedals, triggers and devices on a small table, scratching on a sound board or looping marbles dropping into a tin. And I can honestly say that this was the first time I’ve ever witnessed a miked up gardening trowel played with a knitting needle! Radios buzzed and melodicas warbled as Emma added thumping bass and deft keyboard lines, the whole thing an intriguing display of precision without the need for outright intricacy. As with the other bands tonight, the sound was beautifully presented and you could clearly hear the detail of every abstract drop and scratch, as well as the more obvious song elements. Marvellous!
Over the last few years, the acoustic sounds of Craig Fortnam have quirkily rocked my world and made it a better place. I have enjoyed his North Sea Radio Orchestra for many years, but Craig’s solo works have properly crept under my skin and stayed there, so delving into his Arch Garrison project, with harmonium and squeezebox maestro James Larcombe, was an obvious next move. James’ name is always associated with quality for me, having followed him since Stars in Battledress, a duo with his brother Richard (of Lost Crowns) and seen him play in a number of live settings. The way he manipulates his selection of venerable instruments is always astounding.
Once again, the shared ethos of this scene without a scene shines through as collaborations emerge and flourish. There is always a family feel when any of the bands mentioned here – or the gazillions of others that follow different orbits around the Cardiacs galactic central point, tied by a definite gravitational pull without having the need to sound anything like each other – and tonight is no exception. Having failed to get to see Arch Garrison’s show in Swindon with Richard Wileman a month or two back, this show just fell into my lap – and it was magnificent.
Craig’s songs are a wonder to me. There are folk elements and hints of classical, but it’s all stretched into a beautifully ‘other’ place, doing things that you don’t think possible within the guitar and voice space. James fills out the sound with his wheezing keyboards and accordion things, adding to the dynamic and giving it all a veneer of aged mellowness that is particularly pleasing. There’s heart and warmth as Craig’s finger fly over the fretboard in a mesmerising display that only serves to enhance the often dream-like nature of his songs. I don’t know where they come from – and no doubt neither does he – but to whatever causes them to come into the world, thank you.
At the end of a highly memorable evening, it was great to be able to chat to some of the participants before heading back to the train. The Rose Hill certainly is a welcoming and diverse place of interesting décor and lovely vibes. If only it wasn’t 250 miles from home…
Craig Fortnam – Guitar, Vocals
James Larcombe – Keyboards, Melodeon, Accordion, Vocals
V Ä L V Ē:
Chlöe Herington – Electronics, Saxophone, Vocals, Percussion
Emma Sullivan – Bass, Keyboards, Vocals
Chris Anderson – Piano, Vocals
Al Strachan – Keyboards, Trumpet, Vocals, Electronics