Richard Wileman & Chantelle Smith

Richard Wileman & Chantelle Smith / VÄLVĒ

The Victoria, Swindon
Sunday 18th February 2024

The Vic is a lovely venue, friendly and welcoming with an excellent stage room downstairs, today laid out with seats to rest the weary bones of the 30+ lucky audients who have assembled in this comfortable space. Tonight’s performance is promoted by Secret Sundays, who do a fine job in delivering suitably alternative musical soirees to the discerning Swindon listener. It’s been a long way for me to come, but the compact and salubrious nature of the surroundings make it all the more worth it.

Pints in hand, it’s eyes down for VÄLVĒ, today featuring Craig Fortnam alongside Chlöe Herington. VÄLVĒ is Chlöe’s main creative vehicle, and when I saw her play in Brighton last year it was in a different duo format, with Emma Sullivan on bass and keyboards. As paramedic Emma is on shift tonight, Craig has stepped in to augment the sound with his electric guitar and voice.

VÄLVĒ - Chlöe Herington & Craig Fortnam

There’s a different feel this time around, less rhythmic perhaps, but at its heart Chlöe’s found sounds and looping textures provide a fascinating melding of the often highly unexpected, over which she occasionally sings. She opens with a textural audioscape derived from delicate movements of the mysterious objects in her desktop sound menagerie and knob twiddling electronics. Rusty sounds clang and bang as rolling marbles bump and grind, all looped with lines picked out from a toy melodica to weave around and through each other. It’s fascinating to watch the construction process, and the resulting sounds are beguiling, hinting at otherworldly atmospheres and possibilities. Craig joins Chlöe from the second piece, adding guitar lines and sounds as required in what appears to be a semi-improvised approach.

VÄLVĒ - Chlöe Herington & Craig Fortnam

The result is not as intense or visceral as it was with Emma’s more direct contributions, but there’s a rich variety in the pieces performed, taking in several from the latest VÄLVĒ album, the fascinating Tiny Pilots, including Delicate Engines, Lights [sparkled] and Man in the Moon. Chlöe brings out her saxophone for one song, and there are disco beats to augment others, the set – like the album – culminating in a quite breathtaking version of Maggie Holland’s haunting Perfumes of Arabia. Written in response to the Gulf War, it’s a powerful song, and Chlöe singing the last verse a capella is a beautiful and poignant way to finish. Unusual, esoteric and often wilfully obtuse, there is real beauty within these organically evolving pieces.

After a swift re-jig, during which a harp is skilfully manoeuvred to the front of the stage, we’re ready for a set from Richard Wileman and Chantelle Smith. I’ve been an enthusiastic listener to Richard’s work for some time now, from his extensive catalogue under the Karda Estra banner, to more recent collaborations with the likes of Matt Baber (of Sanguine Hum) and Kavus Torabi (Gong, Knifeworld, etc.), and his burgeoning solo career, which sees him in a more introspective and stripped down singer-songwriter mode.

Chantelle Smith & Richard Wileman

Richard’s most recent release is The Forked Road, a suitably Gothic fable of comets raising the dead, so the unexpected is definitely on the menu. Folk singer Chantelle Smith supplied harp and voice for The Forked Road, so it’s a good opportunity for some of those songs to make an appearance, and so they do, in the form of Spectres of the Ridgeway, Old Bones and the climactic return of The Inevitable Beast. Both seated at the front of the stage, Chantelle switches between harp, shruti box and bodhran. Chantelle specialises in folk ballads and storytelling, and amid some of her unrecorded songs it is fitting that she stands to give us an extended shaggy dog story in the form of Jack O Lantern, Richard supplying off-the-cuff spookiness and atmosphere to augment Chantelle’s gripping delivery. When duetting, the pair’s voices blend beautifully and, despite it being only their thid gig as a duo, they work well together throughout. Richard begins the set with his acoustic guitar sounding like an electric, and the deployed effects add incongruous textures to the folk-based songs throughout the evening, Chantelle offering rhythm or delicate harp.

Chantelle Smith & Richard Wileman

Also featured are a delicate Wheel of Fortune from Richard’s 2020 album Arcana and The Watchmaker from 2019’s Cabal of a Thousand Souls. It’s a relaxed vibe and an engaging experience as the pair deliver a range of thoroughly absorbing songs.

After a very convivial evening and a nice chat with the participants at the end, We emerge into the stillness of a misty night, cold shadows sweeping around the spotlit steeple of Christ Church as we walk back to our lodgings. It’s a fitting end to a sometimes spooky evening of otherworldly magick.

Christ Church, Swindon

Swindon has always been nothing more than a signpost off the M4 for me, but dark things lurk and intriguing sounds are being made, so hopefully I’ll be using that particular exit slip more frequently in future.

Richard Wileman & Chantelle Smith

Banshee Song
The Watchmaker
Wheel of Fortune
Jack O Lantern
Aine’s Song
Spectres of the Ridgeway
Old Bones
The Inevitable Beast

Richard Wileman – Website | Facebook | Bandcamp
Chantelle Smith – Website | Facebook | Bandcamp
VÄLVĒ – Website | Facebook | Bandcamp
Chlöe Herington – Facebook
Craig Fortnam – Facebook | Bandcamp
Secret Sundays – Facebook

[Photos by Jez Rowden.]