I’ve remarked previously how Fenne Lily is a budding comedian. Her dry, ironic and occasionally self-deprecatory wit is in evidence throughout her shows and contrasts glaringly with the mournful lyrics of her songs, which mainly concern a litany of failed relationships from the age of 15 onwards. She hasn’t exactly been lucky in love and, as she said, her album, ‘On Hold’ “took a lot of relationships to make”.
And that wit was needed after a disastrous opening in which her mic fell apart (which also happened during her last visit here), the power to her guitar failed and she stopped the first song a minute in, proclaiming “sorry, I fucked up”. The song was ‘What’s Good,’ and so far there wasn’t much.
She kept her composure though and she has a natural charm, which saved the day, breathlessly uttering “thank goodness that’s over” at the end. But a little more professionalism might be in order when she moves on beyond Soup Kitchen (which if you’ve never visited it, lives up to its name). You can’t fuck up with Jools. And she has the talent to move swiftly on in the business, be sure of that.
Even during both versions of ‘What’s Good’ it was evident that she can do more than merely replicate an album track, live; her voice is actually better.
Recently she’s been working more with a band than without one and this has two impacts. Firstly, it detracts, slightly, from her vocal qualities as a soloist. But not by much, because the guitarist and drummer (she also plays guitar, but stays within her abilities) – quite possibly musicians she has known since she moved to Bristol – only contribute what they need to, to add depth to the songs. There are few opportunities to showboat during a Fenne Lily song anyway.
There are barely discernible melodies in her recorded work but as with the quality of her voice they are actually stronger live and that was particularly noticeable in ‘Bud’, the clearest tune of that night.
Part way through the set the funny stories came out and you do wonder what sort of life she lives. ‘Brother’ was a song dedicated to one she dressed as a girl because she wanted a sister, a strange twist on gender dysphoria, and ‘More than you know’ was prefaced by a tale about her first relationship during which her previously sexually reticent boyfriend suddenly and unexpectedly retrieved his manhood and demanded a blow job, prompting her to seek out the next bus home, except that “you have to wait 45 minutes for one in Dorset”.
Another story told of a previous beau, possibly the same flasher, turning up at her show the night before in London, to haunt her. That must have been a performance to behold.
Strangely, she chose to include a cover, Angel Olsen’s ‘Unfucktheworld’. I say strangely because playing a better-known artist when you’re promoting your own self-released album isn’t really good business practice and can emphasise your own weaknesses. It didn’t. It was the weakest song of the night.
The Spotify zillion-streamer ‘Top to Toe’ closed the main set and probably remains her best work to date even though she wrote it at 15 and “it’s still close to my heart”. ‘On Hold’ also went down well, a song for which she made a video of herself roller-skating through London handing out flowers to strangers, “40% of whom expected me to ask for money”. Stick to Bristol, Fenne.
Personally, the most satisfying song of the evening was ‘For a While’, in which the tempo went up several notches and the band was able to express itself, even if only for a while. There were a few nodding heads in the audience, too. Apply the power of 10 to this video and you’re part way to experiencing it.
Indeed, that suggests one direction that Fenne Lily could take in the future; a bigger sound with an element of rock in it, and songs to match. She could certainly handle it. But just looking around at the audience confirms what I said in the album review. She has a ready-made following of people (mainly women but some men, too) who are all too eager to subscribe to a series of sad-girl songs telling sad tales of her sad experiences because it helps then feel better about their own. That might not be her intention but they aren’t going to go away.
There are still a couple of rough edges to her live performances and the fact that all her songs simply stop dead at the end with no outro does become noticeable. I am sure though that someone who never set out to become a professional singer-songwriter has, or will soon acquire, the attributes required to be a very successful one.
Fenne Lily’s tour continues with dates in Glasgow (13th); Dublin (15th); Birmingham (16th); and Bristol (17th) before moving into Europe.