Lail Arad - St Pancras, Old Church, London, 24th September 2015 1

Lail Arad – St Pancras, Old Church, London, 24th September 2015

The venue is as the name would suggest, an actual church. I presume from the interior it is still used to hold services. It is candle lit and has beautiful iconography adorning the walls. It’s lighter in the entrance. This small venue is playing host to a sold out show – the launch party for her single ‘When We Grow Up‘. I instantly liked the song and the sound when I heard it.
There is a lovely warm atmosphere as Count Drachma takes to the stage – a handsome man with long hair and a red jacket, with candle light dancing across his features. He charmingly warns us that there won’t be much English in the songs. The music he plays is sunshine from South Africa played tonight on a dark cool night in a church in London. He has an acoustic guitar, mouth organ and is discretely using a loop pedal. He introduces a song called ‘Sora’ and tells us it’s sung in Zulu. When you can’t understand the words, you are left to sense the energy of the song – to me this song is all purity and passion. Count Drachma is on a mission to bring Zulu music to London and he informs us he’ll be playing on Wednesday with a full band line up in the Old Queen’s Head, Islington. He plays on with his harmonica, creating an acoustic jam with the discrete use of an out of sight loop pedal, but not done in the usual obnoxious way. There is nothing technological sounding about this performance. The church fills with radiant South African sunlight of sound – intricate intertwined melodies, fingerpicking a mellow beauty. He plays another song he told us is American so he translated it into Zulu. His voice is beautiful. The song peaks; he ducks down. Music fades to repeat looped guitar melodies like a music box winding down as he turns down the volume. He pops up again playing the last few notes picked on his guitar. The audience applauds and cheers in satisfaction- no mean feat for someone singing in a language than all but none here understand.
The Old Church is alive with an excited audience here to see Lail Arad. I speak to Ollie of Count Drachma. He tells me the songs he played are traditional Zulu. Count Drachma have recently been subject of a BBC documentary about their music.
Lail Arad is armed with an acoustic guitar and launches into her first song. She makes a sound one could imagine Bob Dylan would make if he could sing. “I thought it would be too much of a Patti Smith cliché to wear jeans in a church, so I wore a dress,” she says. The next song is a lullaby of friend-zoning and forgiveness. followed by a song with a strong pulsing intro. I sit there in awe thinking ‘she could be one of the greats.’  A love song to Leonard Cohen? There’s a lightness of comedy to her lines, “but you were born in 1934,” she sings. She invites Sophie to the stage to join her on violin to cover a Leonard Cohen song next. I don’t recognise which one it is, though. I’ve never seen anyone play violin so fiercely and with such attitude – they make a charismatic duo. The church bells ring. Lail sits at a keyboard. She chimes in time with them as she launches into the next song – a touching, tender blues love song where the notes dance over her voice with the lightness of ballet steps. “And we’re jealous of our parents’ generation/And we’re angry with our parents’ generation,” she sings in a style that borrows much from the Sixties generation – presumably her parents’. She’s funny, charming and at ease when she talks between songs. Some of the audience quietly sing along to her next song.
Her voice soars to beautiful heights, reminding me of Joni Mitchell. There’s a pause… Someone’s phone goes off and a sparkle passes across her eyes – it becomes a perfectly timed comedy moment that she’s in on. Now she’s back on her feet and playing her guitar – a song I recognise after one previous listen ‘Everyone’s Moving To Berlin.‘ It’s true, they are; they all have. I lost many of my creative colleagues to Berlin in recent years, I think to myself. She tells us a story about a summer storm in New York City with a friend. The next song is called ‘The Onion‘. It’s the title track off the new album. Bridging the gap between Katie Melua and Sixties folk singers, I don’t want to say that because she transcends comparison. She could be one of the greats. Count Drachma joins her on stage for a duet on “one of my wannabe American ballads” as she puts it. Now Sophie and Sarah come to the stage. They first played together three minutes before the gig, but you can’t tell, playing ‘When We Grow Up‘. It’s a triumphant moment. The whole evening has been building up to this.
The audience is with them every step of the way and the night is alive inside that church. The song ends too soon, leaving the crowd screaming for more as they exit the stage. Lail reappears to play us an encore alone. “Let’s face it/Who wants to be free/When it’s freezing?” the audience laugh at the playful lyrics; “We can be single in summer,” she continues. She introduces the final song of the night – a new song she says. It’s exciting to play new songs because the subject she is singing about it so fresh. From a belted-out voice to a beautiful, barely audible whisper, a song about the ticking body clock of a woman. I can’t help but feel that it’s an important song, voicing an experience that no one dares admit to having in public. I think to myself ‘the world needs this song.‘ And then it’s over.

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