Gill Sandell’s short but intensive UK tour reached London on Sunday for its closing night and the official launch of her new album Light The Boats. Accompanied by Anna Jenkins (violin, backing vocals), Jo Silverston (cello, backing vocals) and Ted Barnes (guitars, ukelele, backing vocals), Gill was in fine form as she led her bandmates through a relaxed and confident set comprising the majority of the record with a scattering of tunes from her previous release, Tarry Awhile, thrown in for good measure.
From the outset it was clear that the reworking of the album material for touring with a four-piece acoustic group had brought new nuances and this was especially noticeable in the rhythmic foundations of the songs. Sparkle Eyes was a particularly inspired example of this: a combination of Anna’s fingerclicks, Jo’s hand drumming on the body of her cello and Ted’s driving acoustic guitar riffs, it swayed like an oak tree in a storm. Add Jo and Anna’s harmony vocals to the mix and sonically it was like seeing a good friend in an entirely new light.
The same could be said of Distance, its live arrangement dispensing with the piano in favour of Gill’s intricate fingerstyle guitar and backing vocals from Ted, as Anna and Jo’s strings soared. The Listening Ear, meanwhile, was transformed by some subtle polyrhythms generated by the interplay of Anna’s percussion and Ted’s acoustic guitar.
Similarly, new life was breathed into Wild Mountainside and A Breeze Upon The Hill (both from Tarry Awhile), to the point where I found myself wondering if they were, in fact, tracks from Light The Boats which I’d somehow overlooked, so seamless was their integration with the newer material.
The Green Note proved to be an ideal venue for an intimate launch party; sold out in advance, amongst the audience were almost all the musicians who had contributed to the studio recordings – and we were treated to the distinctive guest vocals of Adrian Crowley on a rendition of Sickle Swing that crackled like a stubble fire at harvest moon, thanks in no small part to some blazing electric guitar from Ted Barnes. In my review of Light The Boats I said that this was one of the standout tracks and its translation into a live context has only reinforced my opinion: it was one of the highlights of the set, too.
The two singles from Tarry Awhile brought the evening to an emphatic close: the irresistable toe-tapper of Wrap Your Treasure paving the way for a hypnotically pulsing Fingers And Toes, with some of Anna and Jo’s finest close harmony singing behind Gill’s strong, clear lead vocals.
This was altogether a very impressive performance by a group which had only been playing these songs for a few weeks and, even though all four musicians have other commitments in the near future, I very much hope they can be persuaded to perform together again. That Gill, Jo, Anna and Ted were able not only to recreate but also enhance the mesmerising beauty of Light The Boats in a live setting suggests to me that this is a group that deserves much wider exposure.
Review by: Helen Gregory
Rooms For Sleep
Sickle Swing (guest vocals: Adrian Crowley)
A Breeze Upon The Hill
The Listening Ear
Wrap Your Treasure
Fingers And Toes
Encore: Will I Lose My Love?
Main Image: L-R: Gill Sandell, Ted Barnes, Anna Jenkins, Jo Silverston, Adrian Crowley