There should be more nights like this.
Having dragged myself out of my sickbed for this show, this was balm for the soul. Almost two years after Matthew E White’s show at the Roundhouse (here) hinted at the Revue format, this was Spacebomb in full force. A one night only performance in the magnificent setting of the Barbican’s main hall (NB: Thanks to Mark Heybo for the photographs via @markheybo).
You can read more about Spacebomb here but essentially White heads up a studio in Richmond, Virginia which acts as both a centre for his colleagues and local musicians record in and a resource for applying a Spacebomb touch to other people’s records. This is becoming increasingly prevalent as the studio’s reputation grows. Two of the most prominent guests tonight, Foxygen and The Waterboys both asked White to work on their latest records, giving him full reign to add the albums rich string and horns to the original work.
The format was simple and effective. The evening was divided into two sets. Pretty much everyone got a couple of songs, either in the first or second set with a few people, such as Natalie Prass coming back more frequently. This worked perfectly. You got a taste of everyone’s talents but no-one out-stayed their welcome (not that this would have been a danger, given the quality of evening).
Opening with a brief overture, lead by Trey Pollard, the studio’s in-house arranger, Prass kicked things off with a heartbreakingly beautiful version of “My Baby Don’t Understand Me”. This was how the song had been imagined and it was a privilege to hear the gorgeous orchestration by Pollard. The arrangements throughout the evening were subtle and intelligent, never overpowering the song or the singer, just as it should be. Prass’s “Bird of Prey” was another beneficiary, the Studio 54 disco feel of the song being polished and brought to the fore.
White introduced the evening’s premise, commenting how it was clear to him that London was the only place to host the event due it being central to Spacebomb’s success. He was visibly moved as he thanked the audience, explaining that the people he worked with at the studio were always treated as fellow artists rather than just clients.
There was also sufficient stylistic variety between the artists to pull the evening along. Karl Blau provided some cosmic Americana. Cocoon’s Mark Daumail provided a couple of warm Prefab Sprout-ish songs, especially a beautiful duet on “Retreat” with Prass. Blue eyed soul was a thread through the evening with East Midlander Georgie ramping up her inner Lulu on “Company of Thieves” and a tall suave Howard Ivans calling to mind Darryl Hall on his couple of tracks, bathing in the warm Young Americans/Philly Soul-style orchestration, especially the hypnotic “Jump In” and the sugar sweet “Pillows”.
Bowie was brought to mind as a visual inspiration by Foxygen’s Sam France, replete in a Man Who Fell To Earth white fedora and jumpsuit. Working the stage with his enthusiastic backing singer gave the evening a blast of showbiz energy, particularly on the pure pop of “Follow The Leader”. In fact, France’s syncopated dance moves with the unnamed vocalist were one of the evening’s sweet spots.
Bedouine was one of the other stars of the show. Taking the stage in a beautiful aquamarine dress with her acoustic guitar, she really was one of the Ladies of the Canyon. White told a story about how he and his guitarist Trey Pollard listened obsessively to her unsolicited demo tape during an American tour, even having it serve as their alarm clock. He was convinced to record her debut LP with the Spacebomb crew and the rest is history. If you enjoy the classic 60s female singer songwriter sound, you won’t go wrong with this LP. Her performance on the evening was beautiful and subtle, the strings in particularly complimenting her spare fingerpicking style.
The other impressive female voice was Rebecca Taylor, who performed “In Waves” with her partner in Slow Club, Charles Watson. Taylor had performed with White at the 2016 Roundhouse gig. She had mentioned at the time that she was headed to Richmond to record the next Slow Club LP with Spacebomb. “One Day All Of This Won’t Matter Any More” was the fruits of their labours and Taylor’s performance was impressive, a slow burning soul number. Dusty would have been proud.
The most established guest was Mike Scott, long time leader of the Waterboys. Scott had asked White to apply arrangements to the Waterboys 12th LP, “Out of All This Blue” which takes the band down a new soulful avenue. Mick Puck looked every inch the rock god, in a natty hat and gold scarf ensemble. His first track was a Scott Walker-esque number. The second grabbed the heart and the feet. “Love Walks In” was one of those human affecting love songs that Scott regularly delivers, like “When Ye Go Away” and “A Man Is Love”.
Scott said of his time at Spacebomb:
I remember sitting in a cafe marvelling that anyone could conjure that classic sophisticated emotional sound so reminiscent of the late 60s/early 70s gold era……Trey’s arrangements added class and beauty. His work is gorgeous and masterful, and he was super easy to work with.
Pretty much my thoughts based on Trey Pollard’s work at the Barbican.
I’m not sure what the economics of the evening were but in terms of exposing a significant number of artists to an audience, outside of hosting a festival, I would struggle to think of a better model. It went beyond a mere showcase though. It was an opportunity to see the dynamics of the Spacebomb set up. One could hear the studio arrangements of songs in a live environment that simply could not have been done in any other circumstances.
The consistency shone through – the songwriting, the performances, the soul. Some performers were markedly more comfortable in the larger environment of the Barbican rather than the studio or the smaller venues they may be more used to. All seemed to enjoy it though and became noticeably more confident and relaxed as the evening progressed.
This was a proper old-fashioned show. The backdrop photographs of Richmond (as per the one in the cover image from Trey Pollard, some with discretely visible Spacebomb logos) drew you into the DNA of the studio. White’s vignettes shone a light on the work that the crew do. An extra special touch was one lucky visitor got to go Richmond to see the studio in all of its glory.
As a regular concert goer, one craves evenings like this. More please!