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LIVE: Jesca Hoop / Rihab Azar – Howard Assembly Room, Leeds, 17/05/2024

Welcome to Lau-Land, the Leeds edition. The music festival curated by the folk trio Lau has previously seen action last October in their home city of Edinburgh as well as a smaller incarnation just a few weeks back on the Isle of Skye in the Inner Hebrides. But now it is the turn of this West Yorkshire city and the prestigious Howard Assembly Room to host this exciting event.

A packed weekend full of gigs, workshops, sessions, and a ceilidh awaits. And it all begins tonight with Jesca Hoop, the Californian musician now living just over the Pennines in Manchester, with support courtesy of the London-based Syrian/British oud player, Rihab Azar رحاب عازار.

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Rihab Azar

Rihab Azar opens the Leeds’ Lau-Land with an exquisite exhibition of solo oud work through a series of her own compositions. She creates a spell out of spontaneity and improvisation with this fretless, pear-shaped instrument – similar to the lute in appearance – as she strikes a beautiful balance between tradition and dreamy experimentation. She concludes with ‘Endurance’, an exhilarating exercise in transcendental concentration.

When Jesca Hoop was last here in the Howard Assembly Room 18 months ago she was accompanied by her long-term musical collaborator Kirana Peyton on bodhrán and guitar and Chloe Foye on bass guitar and keyboards. This time round she is flying solo, save for her two guitars and a couple of songs when she is joined by the three lads from Lau – Kris Drever (guitar), Aidan O’Rourke (fiddle), and fresh from his stunning performance of Split the Air with the Grimethorpe Colliery Band in Gateshead last Sunday, Martin Green (accordion).

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Jesca Hoop with Lau

Her being alone magnifies certain elements of Jesca Hoop’s vulnerability, her acute sensitivity about the world in which she finds herself, and much of the despondency she feels towards it. No sooner has Hoop delivered a stark, almost despairing ‘Hatred Has A Mother’ then she asks the rhetorical question “if we are all made of the same stuff, all fundamentally the same, how do we manage to create such unsafe environments?”     

Before Jesca Hoop reaches her encore – an emotionally-charged revisiting of the title track of her 2009 album Hunting The Dress – she is yearning for a simpler life, wistfully recalling the time she lived outdoors in a raspberry bush in the high mountains deserts of Arizona.  Between those ends of the set spectrum she takes us on an often high-wire sonic odyssey through the articulated intelligence sex education of ‘Outside of Eden’; the abandoned sense of somehow being out of time on ‘Free of the Feeling’, where she is joined by Lau; and the recycled mimicry of ‘Lyre Bird’ that underlines the fact that at her own admission Jesca Hoop likes to “move away from the ideas we have made about life.”

Jesca Hoop’s world is not conventional and she remains a true outlier operating on the perimeters of contemporary music. She is also painfully honest, with an occasionally out-of-tune guitar, the odd bum note here and there, and her forgetting the words to a song merely adding to the raw authenticity of this absorbing occasion. At one point she reminds us that “I told you I was having trouble with my memory… but tell me you forgive me.” Of course we do, Jesca. We wouldn’t have you any other way.

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Jesca Hoop

Photos: Simon Godley

More photos from Lau-Land in Leeds feat. Jesca Hoop and Rihab Azar            

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.