Live Review: The Joy Formidable – The Clapham Grand, London 28.09.2023

Don Blandford

Without The Clapham Grand, I probably wouldn’t even be here. Some seventy years ago my teenage father evaded his home chores and escaped through a Wandsworth window to meet my mum at The Clapham Grand. A secret rendezvous. A night at the pictures.

My own hot date tonight is with The Joy Formidable. On arrival I’m first directed by staff to one of the upstairs boxes – very nice – the Blandford name still means something in this part of South London then! The Grand is plush – a throwback to music hall, cinema and frenzied bingo nights – full of charm.

Rhiannon “Ritzy” Bryan (lead vocals), Rhydian Dafydd (bass and vocals) and Matt Thomas (drums) are here to belatedly celebrate the release of their current album Into The Blue. Ritzy and co had planned to play in March but her mental health was significantly challenged, and, understandably the gig had to be postponed. Happily, her dazzling blue eyes are twinkling again and London belongs to The Joy Formidable.

Opening track is the tribal Caught On A Breeze and it’s majestic and as grand as the venue itself. An urgent statement of intent. Ritzy delivers an incantation over pounding drums and a sinister fug of sound envelops Clapham. Sevier continues the unsettled dream pop vibe with a screeching guitar undercurrent – as if Ritzy is summoning ancient giants from the London clay. Deliciously dark yet still accessible and unpretentious.

After a few songs, Rhydian and Ritzy settle and start to offer up some chat and are clearly grateful to see such a packed venue. Ritzy is awestruck too and more expressive. Few people use the F word quite as well as Ritzy! Delivered with such a wide-eyed innocence her effing seems so incongruous.

Tracks from their debut album The Big Roar inevitably follow beginning with the wall of sound of The Greatest Light Is The Greatest Shade segued with the band’s most indie-pop moment Whirring. These are the tracks (along with Austere – conspicuous by its absence) that grabbed my attention some fifteen years ago when The Joy Formidable were rocking TruckFest and other indie venues along with their contemporaries Blood Red Shoes. The Joy Formidable sound is less snappy, more complex and sounds even prog at times but obviously in a good way!

Songs from Into The Blue seep seamlessly into the set including the mosh-worthy CSTS sounding like a theme to a trippy Halloween night. The album title track jogs along in a lovely Manics style and no, that isn’t a lazy reference to another Welsh band! It’s just a gorgeous track, all the better for having a lightness in contrast to the more epic songs on the setlist.

The Joy Formidable are joined by the strings and brass of The Wolf Orchestra on Welsh language track Yn Rhydiau’r Afon. Ritzy ponders out loud which musician in the orchestra is the butt of jokes like drummers are in rock bands. Drummer Matt looks on, feigning hurt from his “goldfish bowl” wall of plastic strangely separating him from Ritzy and Rhydian. This then inspires Ritzy and Rhydian to idly consider whether they can get insurance should one of the band take a tumble into Matt’s Perspex prison.

The Joy Formidable have moved around a lot since forming in Mold back in 2007. Since their recent return they’ve been delving through their old possessions they squirrelled away in storage. Including props from videos and other random ephemera. Ritzy revels in these reminiscences before snapping out of the reverie with the quickfire crash of Cradle – another magical blast from their debut record.

Ritzy speaks generally about her recovery from her mental health crisis and emphasises the importance of people coming together as being vital to everyone’s health and welfare. The Joy Formidable have a Music Club releasing exclusive, limited edition music and Ritzy couldn’t be more effervescent about the project. She’s right. Latest release, Share My Heat is so psyched out – a stunning, exotic celebration, an aural gift to the fans that have been with the band through the years. The final thank you is the four track encore featuring The Wolf Orchestra on the final songs Wolf’s Law and Left Too Soon.

All these years later The Clapham Grand still resonates with romance. Everyone loves The Joy Formidable. Croeso nôl!

Previous Live Review: New Order / Confidence Man - 3Arena, Dublin 01.10.2023, plus Gallery and setlists
Next Live Review: Tortured Demon / Red Method / Unburier - Manchester Academy 3, Manchester 05.10.2023

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