LIVE: Erland Cooper – Left Bank, Leeds, 21/09/2023

It does feel that it is the right time to be catching Erland Cooper in concert. The day after the country’s prime minister made his net zero policy U-turn – a decision to renege on the government’s climate commitments which was rightly and roundly condemned – Cooper is in Leeds on the fifth date of his Folded Landscapes tour. Taking its name from the Scottish composer, producer, and multi-instrumentalist’s fourth studio album, the tour is described as “a celebration of the cyclical, fragile, and restorative natural world”. 

As Erland Cooper himself says, “all my music is inspired in some way by nature, people and place” and Folded Landscapes – written in direct response to the current climate crisis – moves his work into another, even more exploratory creative dimension. The album which sees Cooper collaborating with the Scottish Ensemble and features guest appearances from the Poet Laureate Simon Armitage and environmentalist activist Greta Thunberg was created under extreme circumstances using drastic temperature changes, from sub-zero to the hottest day in UK history. 

Music as bold as this deserves to be heard in a suitably dramatic location. And Left Bank provides such an environment. A redundant church brought back to life in recent years as a community arts venue, the Grade II listed building boasts huge vaulted ceilings, imposing pillars, arches, and impressive Gothic-inspired windows. Sepulchral lighting seeping through the interior of the former St Margaret of Antioch’s Church, adds to the brooding atmosphere of the occasion.

Left Bank Leeds

A string quartet from the Scottish Ensemble are already in position on the stage by the time that Erland Cooper joins them. Their number will be augmented shortly thereafter by Midori Jaeger, the cellist, singer, and songwriter who earlier had filled a perfect support slot with a handful of her own compositions and stunning covers of both Adrianne Lenker’s ‘Anything’ and John Martyn’s ‘May You Never’

Yet all is not always as it seems with Erland Cooper. Despite the title given to the current tour, he chooses to open with a couple of pieces from his second album, 2019’s Sule Skerry‘Flattie’ and ‘Haar’ both capture the gentle ebb and flow of the sea, its texture and sound immersed in Cooper’s elegiac piano.

It is not until ‘Warming’ (‘Movement 5’ on the record) that Erland Cooper turns to Folded Landscapes, reminding us of the urgent message – our responsibility to preserve our precious ecological system – that lies at the album’s heart.  But for all of his serious ideological inspiration, meditation, even confrontation, Cooper is not without a charming sense of playfulness. On the title track from his debut album, Solan Goose, he invites the capacity audience to take out their mobile phones and access a link to his own website. There they are directed to the sound of the gannet, those large seabirds usually found in the North Atlantic and whose cries then proceed to accompany the tune. As an impromptu musical experiment, it works like a dream.

Erland Cooper

Other welcome surprises include the pre-recorded voice of an old Orcadian speaking about his love for the short-eared owl, or Cattie-Face as it is known locally on Cooper’s native Orkney Islands. The venue’s amplified sound is then switched off, the stage lights dimmed, and we are encouraged to believe we are travelling on a P&O ferry to those islands, imagining that moment when the sun begins to rise. It is really quite magical and a further example of Erland Cooper’s experimental nature.

With light and sound having been restored, Erland Cooper concludes the set proper with ‘Spoot Ebb’, a wholly transportive experience that relocates the listener from west Leeds to a place off the northeastern coast of Scotland where those fresh spring tides flow. He is not finished yet, though, returning shortly thereafter to reprise the melody of ‘Solan Goose’, present us with the gorgeous lullaby that is ‘Shalder’, and then hand deliver the expressive ‘First of the Tide’ where he trades vocals with Midori Jaeger. Together they all add to the accumulative potency of Cooper’s themes of the natural world and the beauty that lies therein. 

Fittingly, Erland Cooper leaves us with ‘Aflame’ – ‘Movement 6’ from Folded Landscapes – a stark reminder of the devastation wreaked by climate change. But within this deeply disquieting piece of art there still lies an optimistic vision of what tomorrow’s world can look like if only we are prepared to listen and act accordingly. 

Photos: Simon Godley

More photos from Erland Cooper at Left Bank Leeds

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.