Words: Chiara Strazzulla // Pictures: Spela Cedilnik
London has plenty of venues with plenty of history, but there is a special charme to the Columbia, a space which has seen a good number of rock legends go by and which now sees its stage trod upon by some of the most interesting emerging and alternative acts in the capital. The room has something equally quaint and challenging to it, an intriguing soundscape to match the wooden floorboards and crystal chandelier. I was lucky enough to revisit it for Gathering Ye Rosebuds (02), the second installment of an event organised and hosted by Bishopskin, a band which certainly does not shy away from the unusual (the first installment, also at the Columbia, had been a much needed just-out-of-lockdown affair, and quite honestly a breath of fresh air in more than one way).It was a busy and intriguing line-up, each set just long enough to appreciate exactly what each band was doing (quite a lot, it turns out), a good mix of loud and reflective, bouncy and dissonant.
The night started with a shock of energy by welcoming to the stage The Dada Movement, a band which I had not had the pleasure to see live before, but which I will certainly seek out again. If you, like me, are very fond of classic rock but tragically too young to have witnessed the heyday of its glitzy glories, this is a band you will not want to miss. Mixing in a string of blues suggestions, a flurry of pure rock guitars, and a bop which would not be out of place on a stage of the late ‘60s, they have tracks in their setlist that sound like some very good Rolling Stones songs the Stones never wrote. Frontman George has a little bit of a young Jagger to him too, in the way that he takes on the stage, but it’s the collective charisma of the band that really sells the nostalgia, and under the nostalgia there’s so much more: an echo of punk in some of the vocals and the bass lines, something of glam rock in the way in which some guitar phrases are organised, and something else entirely that weaves a new sound out of old echoes. It’s modern music for times gone by, or possibly the other way around.
The Dada Movement (click on the pictures for a full view)
Endless Digital Birthdays take to the stage next, summoning a completely different mood, floating and intense and somewhat dreamlike (or perhaps it’s a hallucination?) Music doesn’t quite start to describe exactly what they bring to the room, through music there certainly is, deceptively complex under a veneer of simplicity, its rhythm rising and falling like a wave and luring you into its surprising depths. There is a strong element of spoken word threaded into this, though, which makes this set almost performance art in nature – this is a theme, too, with this evening: the sense that all of these bands are, first and foremost, performers – and they have the right vocals for it, a smooth, sullen in places, baritone that fills the room and serves as a counterpoint to the bursts of guitar and the lazy stream of rhythm. It is perhaps, after that most classical of beginnings, a hint of the unexpected, but the juxtaposition just works.
Endless Digital Birthdays
It works as an effective introduction, also, to the Bishopskin set. Once again, this is an outfit – born of an idea of artist Tiger Nicholson, who provides the vocals, and guitarist James Donovan, also of HMLTD, who has no doubt a previous familiarity with unusual sounds – which it would be an understatement to just call a band. Even before you’re hit by the complexity of meaning of the lyrics, which are clever and reasoned enough to read as poetry, or by the intriguing texture of the music (which is lush, and ambitious, and full of layers, equally capable of danceable guitar solos and slow, swaying lulls), it is their stage presence that is striking, and which commands attention. The true showmanship of this set, I find, lays in the way in which it manages to be intense in a way that matches the depths of the music (aided in the rhythm section, just for the night, by guest bassist Nico, also of HMLTD), energetic without the need to be frantic, and with just a little bit of sense of humour to counterbalance the ambition of it all. The rest comes from some of the most striking vocals I’ve heard in quite some time, low and earthy and blending with the musical background to the point that voice here is almost itself an instrument, and from the clever interplay of guitar and keyboard, and some very subtle, effective use of drums (it is a good rhythm section that is always there without you noticing it’s there, and if it was gone you’d miss it). A band to see live for the shivers and hear again in the studio version, back at home, to appreciate all the little details that you only got subliminally in the club.
Bishopskin (click on the pictures for a full view)
Last and by no means least, Jelly Cleaver brings the evening to a close with a set which loses nothing in its intensity for being stripped-down; if anything, actually, it gains some, by losing any possible distraction and letting the sheer talent of this performer shine through. There is no need for embellishment when you can do that with a guitar. It is not by chance that the instrumental bridges are the stand-out parts of this performance, with a crisp cleanliness which is rare to find in the studio, let alone on stage, and an ease of delivery which draws the audience into a set that doesn’t need to be loud to be entrancing. The vocals play with the guitar almost like a duet, airy and full-bodied; this, too, is an act you want to catch in its many possible incarnations, in the studio where the post-production takes very little away from the vocal skill of the performer, in its more ‘rock-out’ live incarnation with support musicians adding additional layers in the background; but this simplest of versions conveys the real intensity of the tunes, their ability to stand alone in the web of sound they weave. It is a slower, immersive end to an evening which has brought about plenty of thrills, and all the more fitting for it because of the raw emotion that this set manages to bring to the stage.
Should anyone have any doubts as to how diverse and interesting the alternative music scene can be right now: go no further than this event. In its variety and the way it successfully delivers a broad number of clever, daring ideas without faltering, it is a perfect representation of how many things music can still do. I’d be prepared to bet that many audience members walked home humming one or the other tune from the night, and are still humming them now. I certainly still am.