There was a distinct divide in the demographic nestled in the pews of Islington’s Union Chapel on Monday night. For Russian Red’s Lourdes Hernández’ debut appearance in the capital, and from the support of her Spanish fans who received her performance (alongside Belle and Sebastien’s Stevie Jackson and Bob Kildea) with a charming, Mediterranean passion in contrast to the usually quiet and reserved setting of the 18th Century Gothic chapel, it was evident her avant garde folk-pop was still relatively underground in the UK scene. Her pairing with supporting artist Rachel Sermanni was a well suited one: here are two musicians both falling under the folk umbrella and yet who branch out from this with tinged of jazz, blues and soul painting much of their respective works.
Sermanni’s set shone with a maturity and complexity of instrumentation with lashings of theatrical drums and percussion on ‘The Fog‘, while her trio of string players accompanied with romantic, lilting touches one moment to scraping, scratching and plucking the next. The stage sagged under the weight of this 8 strong backing band, yet the usual doubts over an entourage so fleshed out in numbers was cast aside when this sheer experimental range was exposed. Their’s is a knowledge and ear for melody, but a melody which is far from the traditional, taking sharp turns from the convention path, extracting itself from a simple skeleton formation to a bombastic and atmospheric rumination. If ‘Pirate Song‘ is the extrovert of Sermanni’s talent, the quietly bewitching ‘Little Prayer‘, clocking in at a mere 60 seconds, and melding five glorious vocals, was equally as impressive and standout for its beauteous simplicity. Lyrically poignant, and visually descriptive with a leaning toward the subconscious – “I write about my dreams a lot” she informed us midset – at 20 years old it is almost instinctive to look for comparisons with her contemporary Marling…but from this live performance which left the crowd captivated, on the edge of their seats, Sermanni’s undoubtedly blazing a trail all of her own.
Conversely Russian Red’s European slant on indie pop was decidedly more mainstream, and while songs entitled ‘I Hate You But I Love‘ harboured a girlish simplicity and heart on sleeve lyricisms, they were laced with a tenderness and subtle Spanish passion which allowed her to convey these pronouncements with a certain sophistication, self assurance and individuality. Opener ‘The Memory is Cruel‘ slowstepped with a weighted heartache, while Hernández’ Spanish inflected English sounded at times like Joanna Newsom’s coy, girlish call. “How many people in the audience are Spanish?” she enquired to a reception of jubilant whoops and excitable handclaps after an opening few songs. Captivating to watch she fluttered around the stage, coquettishly slow dancing, armed almost always with her voice alone. The set jumped back and forth between these more poised numbers (‘Loving Strangers‘) and the bouncing 60s pop of the likes of ‘The Sun, The Trees‘, which took the tempo up, inspiring even a few dances in the balcony. While it was apparent that the majority of those gathered had so either for the support or headliner alone, most would have left pleasantly surprised by their respective new discoveries of the evening.
Video from the Night