The candle-lit environs of Dalston’s Cafe Oto felt a particularly apt setting for chamber-folk five-piece The Magic Lantern to host their single launch party. Amongst the flickering tea-lights atop wooden tables, decorated with remnants of Organic beer and homemade cakes, a crowd of friends, family and listeners new and old gathered. It’s a rare occurrence to find a venue, an audience and musical styles that all compliment one another and there is something even more humble in members of the Magic Lantern sitting at the door, welcoming guests in from the cold.
This neat marrying of the three bands playing (The Magic Lantern, Bleeding Heart Narrative & Neverest Songs) is understood by Jamie Doe, the host band’s front man, as a celebration of “the importance of live music and its ability to move people”. Thus they play with bands they know and love and who understand this important, often all too forgotten sentiment. It is no surprise then that all bands playing are somewhat affiliated, curated and introduced by the Magic Lantern: This is chamber-music with a community feel whereby the sum of all parts counts for the combined success of the evening as a whole.
Beginning proceedings; Luke Twyman’s moniker Neverest Songs, recommended courtesy of Oliver Barrett’s collective Bleeding Heart Narrative. Thankfully Cafe Oto’s possession of a grand piano meant Twyman’s flighty fingerwork excelled and offered a varied set in contrast to other shows where he often has to adapt his piano based songs for guitar. Playing with a four-piece band comprised of clarinet, cello, guitar and drums the set ebbed and flowed through 30 minutes of epic soundtracks, head versus heart romance and orchestral leanings that have marked him as a classical-folk hybrid. These grand tracks betray their homemade recordings; Twyman’s Small Voyages LP in reality taking the crowd on quite a journey in which most will have found it hard to resist getting caught in the undertow of whirling piano and dense strings.
Oliver Barrett’s long-term musical project Bleeding Heart Narrative followed, with his seven piece band presenting a collection of post-rock, orchestral anthems: some purely instrumental, others employing chanting choruses jubilantly uttered in male/female harmonies; Barrett’s was a distinctly louder set that grasped attentions with compositions decidedly more extroverted than the introversion of the performers who bookended his slot, but by no means lacking in depth of sound and soul.
With Jamie Doe setting foot on the makeshift stage, defined only by a curtain and some fairy lights against the wall, the venue steadily getting busier as the headline slot approached; those gathered were asked to to provide vocals to the opening track “Shine a Light On”, which was recorded that evening. Given the moods the Magic Lantern’s music travels through it was almost surprising to find entertainers so utterly unsubdued. Their’s is warm music for lonely hearts, with Doe’s vocals as rich and sweet as honey, running just as smoothly as they anchor the effervescent instrumentation that borders his self-penned songs. Also just as seemingly effortless are his performance capabilities and that craft of channeling an emotion, his translation of which never feels contrived as he ruminates on the loneliness of a friend who “smile[s] all through the daytime, but cr[ies] at night” and employs flamboyant imagery of a phoenix rising up from the smoke with illustrious visual capacity and warm strings to match.
These are personal stories dedicated to friends: “Somebody Told Me” for Jim O’Reilly, and track of the evening, the single “Cut From Stone” which was to be “responsible for wrecking the hearing” of the 4 month old baby to whom they gave an (albeit unaware) nod. Captivating whether chatting between songs, uttering universal emotions of solemnity, or referencing Shakespeare, the Magic Lantern’s set was a heightened sensory experience that contained all of the dramatics of a piece of theatre. There is a certain Jeff Buckley quality to the arrangements and diction, and a songwriting capacity that, like Joanna Newsom’s, is utterly otherworldly and densely descriptive.
Layering sounds of elongated vocals with the warmth of Lucy Railton’s cello and the gauzy effects of Phil Stevenson’s guitar, there is a symphonic fuzziness to the band’s sound in which the instrumentation intermingles to create an overwhelming and engaging experience. It is the vocals that truly captivate however, as Doe’s voice and intriguing narratives (Romeo as an outstanding example) pull listeners in.
There is an understanding as you watch that this is a collective of accomplished and ambitious musicians who strive to do something different. Their influences come from folk and jazz just as much as from the literary worlds and the personal. The humorous and yet painstaking descriptions of the construction of the handmade CD cases for Cut From Stone, that if memory serves correctly they finished just in the nick of time, too are telling of the degree of thought and detail poured into their art, and it is something that regardless of taste, is beautifully apparent when observing their performance.
All artists at Cafe Oto shared a similar striving for sonic challenges from humble beginnings, and as the evening started with Twyman’s small voyages; that emotional depth created ripples which continued to spiral as Bleeding Heart Narrative and The Magic Lantern made certain the evening was defined by great waves of emotion.