Music: Even in the quietest moments

Angelou may be self-effacing about their music, but Nick Coleman believes it is worth shouting about
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Sometimes the sweetest music is born out of small adversity. I'm standing in a dingy room in an ancient flat above shops in Wymondham, a market town outside Norwich. The ceiling is low, the floor uneven, and there are black beams to crack your head on. There is no furniture to speak of, only amplifiers and microphone stands and a drum kit. The walls are dotted with photographs. A lot of them are snapshots of people who are evidently friends cuddling, leaning back, smiling into the lens in scruffy clothes.

I'm leaning against the doorpost and listening to Angelou, a group, play a song entitled "Humble". I can't really hear the words because the acoustic in the room, though pleasantly mellow (due, no doubt, to the juice in wattle and daub), is a bit opaque. However, the music is lovely. It has a rippling, buoyant quality to it, its tune bobbing on rivulets of electric arpeggios. There is something unresolved about its structure. It sounds as if it could happily go on for ages, becoming lighter and more fluent with every minute that passes, until you can't hear it at all.

Contrarily, the singer looks tense as she sings. The voice is certain, the face is drawn. We're too close and the room is too small. At the end, I don't know whether to clap, and she doesn't know whether to look at me. So, we compromise. After a short pause, I say: "That was really, really nice." She smirks, jerks her neck involuntarily, mutters "oh... well... 'anks", and looks at the guitarist, who is fiddling with her settings. The bass player and drummer smile weakly and look at the floor. I wonder to what degree social unease has been the engine of the best English music.

Holly Lerski, the singer and songwriter, and Jo Baker, the guitarist, have been doodling around with guitars and songs for years. Their first gig was at Wymondham youth club when they were still at school. "We were both quite good, weren't we? For our ages." They were both into The Stranglers at the time.

But there is not a trace of The Stranglers in the way Angelou sound. Lerski's songs are finely structured, elegantly poetic, semi-acoustic layers of the sort Sandy Denny might have liked to sing. Some have narrative elements to them - "The Mermaid Girl", for example, is addressed to a Soho stripper, "a seafood delicacy in a pink lobster cage". Most express the slippery contingencies of love, memory, fidelity and nature; all of them have rich tunes.

Angelou's album, Automiracles (just out on Norwich label Haven), is the best debut of its kind since Eddie Reader's Mirmama. Indeed, there is an argument that says you can go further back than that even, to The Sundays' first effort, Reading Writing & Arithmetic. Angelou's music is similarly English in the sense that its romanticism is localised: in smells, in objects, in the smallness of everyday events isolated by the passionately listless eye.

Lerski says she fell in love with the Beatles as a very small girl: songs such as "Ticket To Ride", "Yesterday", "Eleanor Rigby", but not "Yellow Submarine" and "Get By With a Little Help From My Friends". Led Zeppelin followed, in due course, for "the way they sounded so organic". She also says that she's known she is a lesbian since she was six. "I thought I'd grow out of it but never did."

She registered every Beatles love song personally and had no difficulty in investing the objects of Lennon and McCartney's passion with her own. Her love songs are just as universal; she does not write to a political agenda.

Baker, a "lifelong misfit", came out only relatively recently, four years ago. She says, with a self-effacing chuckle, that she always wanted to be a pop star. Did she ever fantasise about being another person? "I think I am another person," she says. Her guitar hero is "big" Dave Gilmour: "It's the ease in his playing, the way he makes the guitar sing like a voice."

Drummer Phil Di Palma joined Lerski and Baker a couple of years back, bassist Chris Evans "a couple of minutes ago". Their job, to paraphrase Di Palma, is to continue the words of the songs by other means, in his case by playing with bare hands when he feels the call.

They offer to play requests in Baker's dun-coloured flat-cum-studio. I say, play what you want to play. So, they do a new song called "Fall". Like "Humble", it is strangely buoyant, without obvious underpinnings, and the music seems to collect around Lerski's words like steam. This time I clap, which sounds pathetic. "That was really, really, really nice," I say to compensate. "oh... um... uh... 'anks," says Holly, fiddling with the neck of her guitar and looking round at the other members of the group. "Actually, to be honest, I don't think we've played it as well as that before."

Angelou's 'Automiracles' is out now on Haven Records.

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