Perseverance does not always pay off in the music industry so it must have been incredibly satisfying for Elgin native Siobhan Wilson when she was crowned 2017’s Green Man Rising winner. Vindication perhaps for seven years of hard graft. A couple of impressive albums and EPs established her mellifluous vocal qualities during this time but as various musical incarnations came and went, so did the various life experiences that appear to have allowed Wilson to discover her true voice as a songwriter. This outcome appears to have been well and truly secured on her latest record There Are No Saints and the opening slot at this year’s Green Man festival demonstrated a surging confidence in material that truly reflected her own artistic ambitions. The unpretentious confines of Manchester’s Castle Hotel would surely be the perfect environment to experience this elegant veracity up close and personal.
Helping to establish the tone of the evening were two very different acts. Ecka Mordecai is a classically trained cellist but accompanied by Sam Weaver on the modular synth, there is nothing orchestral at all about the following thirty minutes. Sparse synth soundscapes pulse and palpitate ominously as Ecka’s cello glitches with unnerving detail and malfunctioning incisions that are as uncomfortable as they are hypnotic add to the nightmarish tapestry woven before us. Inspiration seems to come from Mr. Bungle’s ghoulish narratives, along with the nightmarish soundtracks of Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. The material recalls the sombre nature of The Road and The Proposition in particularly and the calamitous and unnerving reveries intertwine ominously before heading to their apocalyptic endings that are as absorbing as they are horrific.
Laura James offers some grateful respite with a delightful set of wonderfully characteristic and sincere songs, enhanced by stunningly rich and graceful vocals. The Cumbrian singer performs solo initially before being joined by the more elegant cello of Ben Eckersley and her songs surface gently from personal reflection amidst the evocative landscapes of her youth. It’s the perfect tonic to Ecka Mordecai’s hallucinatory compositions which is enhanced further by James’ sweet introductions to each song, adding context to the narratives and confirming the charming nature of this talented singer-songwriter.
Siobhan Wilson is not one to rest on her laurels it seems and her current post graduate studies in music and burgeoning interest in film scores and soundtracks suggest that she would no doubt have appreciated the cinematic flourishes on offer so far this evening. The heat that the compact crowd have generated this evening is less appealing however as she takes to the stage. Opening with the easy-going charm of All Dressed Up from 2014’s Glorified Demons is a deceptively upbeat way to start the evening and is the only time we hear anything other than There Are No Saints material.
The evening is full of little idiosyncratic moments that enhance Wilson’s captivating performance. “What the fuck’s going on here!” exclaims a drunken patron of the bar next door as he barges in to the silent room during the captivating Dark Matter and despite the interruption and the generally stripped back nature of the evening, it is still possible to determine the song’s origins, with it’s careful nods to Blur’s Tender in particular. Wilson’s graceful vocals banish these similarities very quickly however, despite the tour van flu she is currently suffering from. Dear God’s fragility ensures that the room remains completely focussed on this adroit performer, despite the rather odd distraction of the fan lying down, eyes closed, at the foot of the stage. The spiritual song effortlessly adds a bit of Gallic charm to proceedings which continues with Paris Est Blanche, performed entirely in French. Wilson lived in Paris for several years and this period of her life clearly manifests itself stylistically and lyrically in her new material but the continental élan of these songs is dramatically replaced by the grungier direction Incarnation takes. More abrasive, if we were to place a geographical marker on this track, it is less the posh arrondissements that line the banks of the river Seine and more the grittier projects of la banlieue and it is all the better for it.
Disaster and Grace is a stark reminder of Wilson’s classical education but the track is infused with a melancholic nature similar in style to the enigmatic beauty of Stina Nordenstam. The unpredictable nature of these songs continues with a surprisingly vulnerable System of a Down cover, once again revealing further insight into her influences and inspirations. Whatever Helps confirms the general tone of the evening but it’s sombre distortion contradicts the innovative passion that Siobhan Wilson brings to its creation and this evening in Manchester it is an absolute joy to behold.
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Review and Photos by Iain Fox | @IainFoxPhoto