It's Halloween in west London, and the streets are crawling with well-spoken witches and werewolves, clutching cans of lager. Inside the grand, Edwardian enclave of Bush Hall, vampires and grim reapers hang out by the bar. Could there be a more perfect setting or a more suitable date for Bat For Lashes, aka Natasha Khan, to air the psychosexual fairytale pop of her recent debut album, Fur and Gold? If the heated anticipation of the crowd is anything to go by, certainly not.
Fur and Gold has been something of a sleeper hit among music fans of a broadsheet bent. (Nothing wrong with that, of course.) Perhaps the other-worldliness of Khan's music, which pitches somewhere in between Kate Bush, Björk and the Brothers Grimm, provided a much-needed respite from a tired indie scene - but there was something about Khan herself, resplendent in gold war paint and Indian head-dresses, that stirred our curiosity. It's no surprise to learn she has a degree in Music and Visual Art; in the netherworld of Bat For Lashes - and as with all the greatest pop stars - both hold equal importance.
Khan is all smiles and giggles as she takes to the stage to the tune of Screamin' Jay Hawkins's "I Put a Spell on You", dressed like a skeleton, with her trademark gold headband and painted, glittering cheeks. Her trio of female musicians - who take turns at the viola, guitar, percussion, autoharp etc - are similarly attired, like a band of hipster fairies. Backed by visuals from The Wizard of Oz (my favourite film of all time), they launch into "Horse and I" whileDorothy's house is swept up by a tornado and away to the land of Oz. It's a neat juxtaposition: in the song, a horse wakes a girl from her sleep and carries her off to a fantasy land - which is exactly where Khan transports her audience until the end of her set (when Dorothy goes home, along with the rest of us).
Despite the Bush'n'Björk references - which are all too lazy, but actually do apply - Khan is her own woman. Her emotive, haunted voice is a thing of wonder, sore throat and all. She may hit those high notes just like the Icelandic queen of pop - particularly during the tumbling voodoo of "Trophy" - but she's also funnier, more fantastical and far more loveable. (That's not to say she's better - let's not get too carried away.)
Her childlike enthusiasm is infectious, as she points out her favourite bit in The Wizard of Oz (when the dead witch's feet shrivel up), starts singing the filthy first verse of Peaches's "Fuck the Pain Away" and playfully asks us to make "some ghoulish sounds", "since it's the night of the living dead". Bush Hall howls back in unison.
More importantly, she's got the tunes to back it up, from the kooky trip-hop of "The Wizard" (see what she did there?) to the tribal call and response of "Sarah", where the beat is created by Khan slamming a wooden staff to the floor, like some glamorous witch doctor. And music snobs may scoff, but her cover of Bruce Springsteen's lusty classic "I'm on Fire" strips this most macho of songs to its bare, bloody bones, transforming it into a languorous, female paean to desire.
All in all, Natasha Khan is shaping up to be a classic pop weirdo, with a heritage that takes in the aforementioned B'n'B and also, at times, Bowie and Bolan. Her ever- increasing coven of fans waits with bated breath for her next move.Reuse content