The Castle Hotel is a wonderful place to experience live music up close and personal. The stage is situated in a small room at the rear of an evocative old pub made famous for its original fittings and fine ale. Wood panelling throughout contributes to the incredibly warm acoustics and the venue has proven to be the perfect setting for artists looking to connect on a very personal level with their audience. Tonight, The Castle welcomes two extremely talented artists to Manchester’s Northern Quarter and both deliver sets that perfectly demonstrate the potential of the venue, making the most of the intimate surroundings to present a wealth of new material in very different but equally thrilling ways.
Sarah Howells is better known as one half of Welsh duo Paper Aeroplanes. Tonight though she is performing under a new moniker. Although she is certainly no stranger to performing alone, Bryde is Sarah’s brand new solo project and the venture appears to provide an opportunity for the experienced musician to delve a little deeper into more personal emotions. Tonight is the first time these tracks have been performed live and it is an incredible privilege to experience them within the cozy confines of The Castle Hotel.
First track of the evening is the graceful Handstands. The song opens gently. A fragile musical thread is formed, casting an intoxicating spell on the room. Sarah’s choral vocals compliment the close atmosphere within the venue and the effect envelops us, soothing and elegant until unsuspecting darker tones begins to emerge, ominously creeping up and catching us off guard. Vocally stunning, the song possesses the intensity of a Laura Marling track and establishes the subtle approach that is evident throughout the set.
Oh Tender is even more beautiful, once again showcasing Sarah’s vocals which possess a starkness to them, yet still manage to be intensely elegant at the same time. To Be Loved is heavier and builds upon dark themes, and manifests a more explicit presentation of anger which provides a pleasing shift in pace as well as tone. This is balanced out by a gorgeously fragile and lilting rendition of the Paper Aeroplanes track Ribbons from the Circus EP. We are treated to seven songs in total and Wait all too quickly closes the set, proving to be a particularly hypnotic highlight of an emotional half an hour. Full of melancholic undertones, the song possesses a mysterious, celtic quality to it and by its conclusion, this short, intimate set provides more evidence if it was needed of Sarah’s ability to craft immensely satisfying and authentic folk-pop, all wrapped up in the most amazing vocals.
With barely a break in proceedings, Jake Morley bounds up to the stage and then bounds off again guitar in hand, deciding to open his set amongst the audience. This very quickly introduces any newcomers to his affable and infectious personality, and it becomes very clear that this is also personified in his music, which fizzes with a delectable spirit that is impossible to dismiss. With an impending album release just around the corner, Jake is clearly stoked to have a bunch of new tracks to play about with. Despite a few understandable technical hitches that occur as he manages the mass of effects pedals that generate the samples that accompany him, he quickly falls into a groove, channeling all this excitable energy into a form and style that appears instantly familiar yet completely unique. It is fair to say that he is vocally similar to artists such as Nizlopi and shares a similar approach thematically to Ed Sheeran but what sets Jake apart from his contemporaries is his musicianship, which is breathtaking at times. His songs are built around exotic guitar melodies, at times quite classical in form and during several tracks, this instrument is performed horizontally providing complex patterns and textures that have more in common with compositions created on a piano. If this wasn’t impressive enough, the instrument also doubles up as Jake’s main source of percussion; the dexterity Jake Morley demonstrates tonight is quite remarkable. Music is often described as possessing hypnotic qualities and this is perhaps an overused adjective but the quiet, respectful audience certainly appear to be enthralled by this young Londoner and his extensive set of tracks, old and new.
Once again, The Castle Hotel has served up an absolute musical treat that would not have had the same impact had it been in any other venue. Live music does not get any better.
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Review by Iain Fox | @IainFoxPhoto