I’m afraid the mosh-pit has been cancelled. To the uninitiated the London gig scene may seem hip, cool and above all – dominated by the young and open-minded.
Tonight that misconception is laid bare. Here in the city I love, a city I consider to be the global capital of culture, diversity and youthful vibrancy – the front row is made up of middle aged, predominantly middle-class blokes.
Before the gig even starts there’s a posh chap mansplaining to me how a camera works. Advising me to buy a different model. I fear that on International Women’s Day he’s held back on mansplaining to women so I bear the brunt of his patronising guff. Then there’s “Spanish bloke” something of a permanent fixture at London gigs. He likes to camp out at the front of every stage and no matter how early anyone else arrives…this fella is already there, like an aged fanboy. Rumours that he sleeps at venues to get his “spot” remain unsubstantiated. Usually as sociable as Putin, this evening he has something important to say. He asks me not to click my camera. Tells me I don’t need so many pictures. The sense of irritation is clearly mutual so I move away and nestle behind Tarquin – secure in the knowledge he’ll advise me on how to take better photographs during the gig.
Of course, it’s great the ‘Tarquins’ and the ‘Pablos’ enjoy live music. It’s perhaps the feeling of entitlement that they exude that is less welcome. Too many gigs are starting to resemble a creche for the comfortably off, a ghetto for geezers. An impenetrable line of balding shine with the stench of real ale heavy on the air.
So with these rambling thoughts in mind, I wonder what Dana Gavanski saw as she looked out on the Islington crowd?
On this penultimate night of her UK tour to promote her forthcoming new album When It Comes she opens with the piano twinkling, nursery rhyme-like I Kiss The Night. Announcing, with some relief, at the end that “London is what I call home now” because she recently obtained her visa. Everyone applauds. Even the front row is clapping whilst perhaps secretly fearing she may become a future obstacle to them securing their spot by the stage now that she’s a Londoner too.
The Canadian-Serb-Brit continues on with the gentle and lilting Catch – a sweet vocal reminiscent of Cate Le Bon but with less eccentricity. Under The Sky is a gorgeous lullaby structured like a Broadcast track but less detached and much warmer for Dana’s vocal which manages to sound so pure and layered throughout.
Dana is apologetic “there’s a lot of new songs we’re playing tonight, so thank you for being here” advising that the songs are “quite fresh” for her and her assembled band too. Another gentle see-saw song follows with Bend Away And Fall – the addition of the jazzy brass courtesy of Nathan in the band beautifully complements Gavanski’s soaring vocals. I check the front row just to make sure they’re all still awake.
Dana revisits her 2019 album Yesterday Is Gone with the sparse and intimate One By One. Gavanski’s voice again dominates the light percussion. At the end she checks her head to make sure her hat is still in place, I say hat, but as Dana points out it’s a “fascinator” and she asks, “does anyone know the etymology of that word -’fascinator’? It sounds weird…do hats ‘fascinate’ you?”. I felt sure old Tarquin would know the answer – he seems to be an expert on a lot of subjects – but alas Dana is met with an awkward silence from the audience and quietly says “…I’ll leave it at that!”.
The very jaunty keyboard intro on Indigo Highway breaks the ice and the playful tempo enlivens everyone. Cancel that cocoa order, Mr Barman, at least the night is still young…
Day Unfolds evokes the avant garde spirit of Laurie Anderson with ad hoc brass flourishes, whoops and instrumental squeaks aplenty and it quirkily meanders into the North London night.
There’s still time for more songs from the new album. Dana fully extends her incredible vocal range on the uncomplicated yet hypnotic The Reaper and the hazy, sunset vibe of Letting Go shuffles along nicely, inducing quite the hippy vibe. Another new album track Lisa, has all the refined elegance of a ballroom dance before a searing string performance creates an epic outro and rightly receives rapturous applause.
Red fascinator still attached to her head, Dana is nearly done. The finale is particularly poignant. “I have one more song. It’s a cover…” she says, “called, Broken English” before whispering, “do you know it?” Chosen, Dana said, not because “it’s pertinent to what’s going on…” but because she likes the bassline. Marianne Faithful’s classic Cold War anthem resonates deeply as Gavanski sings “it’s just an old war…not even a cold war…”. Enough to revive the fear of armageddon in the Gen X-ers in the front row.
The regulation encore happens soon after with the fantastic Naima Bock returning to the stage after her support slot opened the night earlier. It’s another cover, this time it’s Dana’s take on the Robert Wyatt interpretation of the Chic song At Last I Am Free – pay attention at the back – which she transforms into a Portishead-esque tripped out delight. It’s a breath-taking end to a beautiful set. Time for Tarquin and Pablo et al to stand down from their posts and reach for their bus pass…