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LIVE: Girl Ray – Belgrave Music Hall, Leeds, 28/11/2023

Girl Ray are agents of musical change. I first caught them in concert in a small back room of the Brudenell Social Club in Leeds where they were supporting the Canadian-born American singer and songwriter, Haley Bonar. It was October 2016 and not so long after the then teenage trio of Poppy Hankin (vocals, guitar), Iris McConnell (drums), and Sophie Moss (bass) had formed in North London and still a good ten months before they released their debut album, Earl Grey. They were then purveyors of a charmingly off-kilter indie-rock. 

It would be another six years before I’d again see Girl Ray playing live. On that occasion, and such had their star risen in the interim, they were appearing on the main stage at the now sadly-no-more Doune The Rabbit Hole festival in Scotland. By then they had already produced their second album, Girl – released in 2019 – and their sound had evolved and moved off into a more pop/R&B dimension.

I most recently saw Girl Ray on the opening night of this year’s Green Man Festival. Their third album, Prestige had only been out for a couple of weeks, but we were already aware that the trio had shifted sonic gears once more, this time heading the Girl Ray vehicle across 110th Street in the direction of 80’s disco and funk. Inspired by Pose, the American drama television series about New York’s underground ball culture of the 1980s, Prestige is a liberating record which finds Girl Ray out there just enjoying themselves.

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And it is this real sense of happiness and joy that they bring to Leeds tonight as they approach what are now the final stages of their current tour of Europe and the UK, one that has followed hot on the heels of a dozen dates in the USA. Coming on stage wreathed in smiles and launching straight into ‘True Love’ – the first of no less than eight songs that they play from Prestige – Girl Ray, despite all of their recent transatlantic and cross channel exertions, clearly still have plenty petrol left in the tank. 

With its popping bass, high-stepping funk guitar, and the fluid timekeeping of the drums ‘True Love’ effortlessly lays down a template for the direction in which Girl Ray are now travelling. The song’s unabashed disco groove affirms that they are moving headlong towards the dancefloor and there ain’t nobody going to stop ‘em now. With the crowd already moving in time, it is wonderfully contagious.

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As one disco-pop classic follows another – ‘Everybody’s Saying’‘Hold Tight’, and ‘Easy’ just seem to blend quite seamlessly into each other – the sheer escapism of it all becomes so seductive that it is hard to recall those first two iterations of the Girl Ray sound. But lest we should forget them altogether the band do take us back in time by way of ‘Friend Like That’ from Girl and then ‘Trouble’ off their debut album, the latter prompting Poppy Hankin to reminisce fondly about their very first show in Leeds – the aforementioned gig at the Brudenell – when they ended up sleeping in a friend’s room at a local halls of residence. They may well have been teenagers back then, but now, she tells us, they just “feel like cute old rockers”

Hankin temporarily sheds her guitar for a stunning reading of ‘Missing’ – the lead single from Everything But The Girl’s 1994 album, Amplified Heart – before Girl Ray again build up a sumptuous head of dancefloor steam with first ‘Love Is Enough’ and then finally, ‘Give Me Your Love’, complete with some period vocoder for a bit of added nostalgia. It all makes for a hugely enjoyable evening, an irresistible fusion of dance-pop, disco, and some good old fashioned clean fun.

Photos: Simon Godley

More photos of Girl Ray at Belgrave Music Hall

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.