Ah! Fingerpickers! Female fingerpickers!
Fortune struck yesterday and I was unexpectedly given two tickets to see This Is the Kit at the wonderful Albert Hall. I said 'yes' before I even had time to think about the logistics of it all. I was due to drive to Battersea and back, and had had the worst day of the century (in a privileged London way) the day before.
But yes, and despite travelling to South Kensington Station on the Piccadilly tube line (which was closed) a swift race on padded feet through huge central London streets, flanked by enormous buildings, got me to the Albert Hall to meet my Champagne Friend in time.
It's so 'proper' there!
Real ushers, older men in smart maroon uniforms, arranged us outside the allotted doors in order of seat number, and ushered us in between songs (that's why they're called ushers!). Jesca Hoop was on stage, and we took our places in the front row just to the side to enjoy equally her snarky asides and her well-crafted songs. She has a lovely voice, and was flanked by a male bass player and a female multi-instrumentalist who sang harmonies with her that rose right up to the rafters of the gigantic ruby cavern. How did they sing so high and with such ease? I have no idea. My voice won't go there without squeaking, but they soared so gracefully that we listened with awe and admiration.
After a short beer-break during which we discussed our natural resistance to going out, This Is The Kit appeared. The centre of their universe, Kate, is tall and slender and had a new hat (she told us) that was absolutely ace. There was something Scottish about it, although she commented that the ribbons made it rather medieval. So Kate started off alone, just her and the banjo slotted into a striped belt. It was gorgeous to hear her voice and the banjo, so clear in such a huge space. One of my favourite female singers is Joan as Policewoman, and Kate's voice has a very similar timbre although I think there is more agility in it. The sound floated above the audience with crystal clarity, and you could feel a wave of affection from them. They had waited a long time for this gig, which had originally been planned for 2018. Picking-wise, she was perfect all night: nothing too tricksy, just absolutely great chords and fantastic songwriting. These were my favourite moments, the times when the band eased off and the whole evening went back to basics. But they were great musicians- a guy playing a Burns guitar traded licks with a mirror-image guy who changed shirts midway to a swanky red velvet number with silver stars. There was a horn section who played lush arrangements that made me turn green with envy in the dark. They kind of reminded me of my own horn players. A lot actually. And one of them played a flugelhorn, with that thick buttery tone filling out the middle of the chords in a very satisfying way. The drummer reminded me of Ian Button- not too much cymbal thrashing, more of a sensitive response to what was happening with the vocals. The band covered a lot of styles rolled into each song: here jazz, there prog rock, never straight rock or folk. They played for the songs, full throated and complete. Kate stood at the front, on tiptoes in pale blue socks, enjoying the hour. There was a lot of gratitude, including to Jesca Moon, who was invited to sing one of her own songs from an album Kate had contributed harmonies too. I thought it very gracious of a headline artist to show such respect to a support artist who has a solid reputation of her own. Indeed, we had all done a Mexican Wave earlier in the evening to thank her, at Kate's request.
The amazing hat was taken off, and then reappeared. The voice was steady and beautiful, and the songs were strong and hearty. It wasn't surprising that they all got a standing ovation from the audience at the end. Standing proud in a theatre-style line, they bowed to the crowd, huge smiles on their faces.
The whole evening was wonderful from start to finish. As we left, the staff thanked us for coming. I could have cried. I seem to have spent so much time in my life being on the receiving end of verbal abuse from students, and having positivity and kindness on tap for a whole evening was completely overwhelming. I was charmed by this alternative universe, by the music, by the atmosphere and by the little details, the best one of which was the point at which the (female) bass player declared: 'I'm starving, actually. I have been far too nervous to eat all day!'.
Playing The Royal Albert Hall is a big deal, isn't it? They did it with splendour, and some very cool back projections.
I went home with a nice chunk of horn riff playing on repeat in my head. In my own music world, that's what you call a 'result'. My own gigs start in two weeks time. I need to up my game, and in an odd sort of way I feel supported by seeing two absolutely ace female fingerpickers doing their stuff so naturally and so skilfully.
Three cheers for female fingers, and thanks to Amanda and Larry for the night out!