Anja Mcloskey’s single launch concert was a marvellous thing. The concept was excellent, playing with an 8 piece band (and Dave Miatt) lined up alongside one of Southampton’s oldest medieval vaults and was also perfectly suited to Anja’s music which is equally timeless and decadent. I fear any attempt to recreate the same event, from anyone else, would fail to meet even half the grandiose euphoria of the evening.
I arrived 8pm ‘prompt’ as the on-line event invitation suggested to be greeted by the lady herself and directed to the small side path called Mulberry Walk that leads down to the side entrance of the former medieval wine vault, at the back of Tudor house museum’s excellently preserved garden.
As I stepped into the large Norman archway the former wine vault was lit up with romantic candle lighting and a general air of sophistication. The choice to spend my Friday night in such a spectacular ‘manor’ had already planted itself in my mind cheering me up immensely. To put on an event such as this requires a tremendous amount of taste and sophistication and class. A job that Anja McCloskey has no trouble meeting head on and these qualities were also present in her music, making the evening ahead so perfect.
The museum & garden were closed as it runs 9-5 opening hours but I highly recommend visiting sometime as it’s a rewarding experience in both historical value and local community pride.
Anja and her band set up and she politely introduced them after her fierce, almost Elizabethan instrumental intro ‘Decision’ heavy on strings and accordion. Almost thought I could hear a medieval clavichord. (Google it, see, I know my shit ;) They were a collaboration of players from Haunted Stereo, Etao Shin and some string players. Anja opted to replicate the new album in its entirety live, so all songs appeared in order. After the short, sweet, sampling of ‘Decision’, Anja followed with ‘Buddenbrooks’ and something about the rising melody of the opening vocals against the lone piano chimes carried an overwhelming surge of mood that stayed throughout the atmosphere of the entire evening. The setting lent the perfect theatrical backdrop to the music and the music reciprocated, they seemed in union with each other. A perfect summer evening in the presence of a backstreet historical local antiquity such as this seemed a perfect container for Anjas music , carefully composed over a long period with a timeless charisma.
‘Italian Song’ picked up the pace with more merriment in its soul during its opening jaunt and again perhaps so because of the accordian but there was a naturally historical synchronicity that I felt with is surroundings. It’s a bustly, thriving song and with more of a Georgian or Renaissance feel to it but it landed very warmly within the cold walls in this Autumn evening. ‘Instigate It’ added more of a shuffle to the proceedings, shifting the tempo and bringing more of a contemporary ,’country-folk’ vibe into the place but with a prominent Baroque waltz marching along the tightly knit harmonies that filled out the solace of Anjas lone vocals and the violin/viola got a bit more action towards the end.
‘Tornado’ brought us thoroughly back into the solemn once again with accordion taking back centre stage amongst the instruments and sheer minor keys for Anja’s voice to cast along. It wasn’t as blustery as the name suggests but was precise in musical timing unlike the name . There were barely noticeably psychadelic chord sequences more and more towards the end which, whilst almost out of character , it was still somehow, in sounding with the authentic, medieval aura the music evening.
‘Quite Low’ was a standout, tender, track and the metronome paced guitar chimes, dressed the song as almost Radiohead in passing. The song worked directly with the quiet of the courtyard and the music emphasised the romance of the bright candle lighting , looking out over the tall stone courtyard walls you can almost imagine the splashing of the waves that once came up to the Tudor house vaults. It’s a Beautiful live song and especially in a place such as this.
‘Blinded by Blue’ is folksy as they come with a chorus that has an almost Bavarian tavern sing-along essence about it, perhaps a subconscious throwback to Anjas German heritage. Yet in the verses the slower accordion playing summoned up images of a parisienne cafe, as does the story behind it. Anja explained it was about an ‘awkward encounter in Paris’. Hearing it in the context of the medieval walled Tudor House brought fleeting images of a pride and prejudice tale with Tudor house garden staring as scenic host.
My mind tends to wander after a second glass of donation priced wine. It was about this point in the set that I spent some time watching the drummer in action, tapping the cymbals with eccentric delicate precision, almost a composer leading an orchestra but the drums sounded perfect so the technique worked well.
The track ‘And Her Head’ arrived next, probably the most renown of her material (or a close second to ‘Kiss’) it starts off with her lone vocal and accordion formula that is I feel is now Anja’s trademark sound. The following viola/violin string arrangement is absolutely Elizabethan in sound and replenishes the home-made Tudor flavour already in our senses.
‘Sunset No.73’ has a lot of guitar reverb in it and the effect is ever present so it becomes slightly less organic and more mechanical but not to say it doesn’t sound just as enchanting as the rest of the songs. A hefty dose of reverb is quite enchanting in such a scenic venue as this and allows the atmosphere to flourish. It’s hard not to hone in on the accordian as it’s a crucial and prominent part of Anja’s sound, deservedly so but what I find worth celebrating is the versatility of its presence, it requires incredible discipline and thought to have it in almost every song without it making the music repetitive. The accordion was thoughtfully added to each song and took a back seat when necessary and was never in it for the sake of it. To achieve this requires almost impeccable musical taste as a music producer/composer.
‘The Kiss’ was up next endorsed by Anja, the high notes have been known to inspire outbursts of applause in previous performances as was narrated over the mic. The plodding double bass/accordion nuance of the intro, would often been identified as Romanian Gypsy by music publications and does ring true, especially with the viola riffs of the chorus but I sense hints of a Brecht/Weill composed theatre soundtrack.
Anja played a small, polite encore as ushered by the 30+ strong crowd, places were limited so it was close to maximum capacity but in an event such as this, calculating attendance figures is vulgar because it was an intimate and unique event. I just pitied those who had not known or turned up. They utterly missed out on something grand.
‘Ivory’ is possibly my favourite song and has a much wider vocal range than we see in Anja other music. The track is almost like a composition in a ballet with perky, upbeat strings plucking not unlike a medieval harp but with the chorus, the melody is uplifting and epic. It is another of those songs that works in line with the scenic location under the warm summer night sky, creating an experience that I can only describe as heart-warming.
With only one track left I thought my senses were exhausted from the extensive performance but I was happy in absorbing more. ‘Tagetes’ was a low key, modest and sombre composition to end on but the lady and her band have already given so much this evening anything else is a bonus.The overall atmosphere of the was event was so strong it still remains in my memory and listening to the album afterwards keeps the spirit of the event intact , the words here are lengthy purposefully because it’s clear the amount of hard work and dedication that has gone into this musical production. The lyrical content is probably worthy of another review in itself; it’s a rare occurrence to have beautifully sounding songs with such purpose and precision. The emotive, spontaneous nature of Anjas American heritage meets the efficiency and precision of the German one.
Finally, a word about Sotones. The event and many others would probably not come to pass without Sotones, a local, passionate indie label with his heart in Southampton and its mind in popular culture. They have been around for years and put on shows that go down in local Southampton’s music scene history as legend. It is the perfect engineer for driving a Southampton music scene and as well as Anja boasts some of our finest acts such as Oresteia, Etao Shin, Haunted Stereo and the artist formerly known as Jackie Paper, Dave Miatt. (Lets not forget Lonely Joe Parker, wherever he may be.)