Gig review: Gravenhurst, Bishopsgate Institute, London

 

Gravenhurst is the musical project of Nick Talbot - a Bristol-based singer-songwriter who coaxes gorgeous tones out of his guitars, but whose gentle tunes wrap up an often dark and melancholy lyrical heart. He's got the satisfying well-balanced melodies, the ever-so-pretty fingerpicking and the lush harmonising to rival many a modern folk act - Gravenhurst call to mind Kings of Convenience or early Iron and Wine, and have been compared to Simon and Garfunkel even - yet mysteriously Talbot's star has never risen so high.

This is a low-key, intimate gig, a hall half-filled with fans who make for the quietest, meekest mouse-like audience; Talbot has to raise a can of Guinness with a "cheers" twice to get us to respond in kind. But we are met with a similar air of shy shuffle; as performances go, it's hardly slick or gripping. Talbot spends a lot - and I really mean a lot - of time tuning his guitars, without much in the way of witty badinage to pass the time; he self-consciously acknowledge this lack, quipping "you'd think after 15 years you'd have that anecdote pretty well oiled by now, but I don't." Fine - but we'd kinda rather you did.

He's joined on stage, and in vocals, by bassist/keyboardist Rachel Lancaster and drummer Claire Adams, who seem even shyer than Talbot, hiding under thick indie-girl fringes. Even the between-band banter - the girls rightly teasing him about that endless tuning - is so quiet we can barely hear it.

Fortunately the songs makes the show. And it feels like just the right time to be watching a Gravenhurst gig; it's music for when the nights draw in, introspective in lyric yet warmly atmospheric in timbre. His electric guitar playing has a soft chime to it, blurred round the edges somehow, and Talbot's voice has a colour-run diffuseness too. In his lyrics, the snow always seems to fall and sleep never seems to come; there's a vein of paranoia and self-loathing that could read indulgent, but is often subtly moving. On "I Turn My Face to the Forest", he keens: "You're only a stone's throw from/all the violence you buried years ago." But the demon-filled depths Talbot plumbs yield beautiful results for the rest of us.

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