Tilly & The Wall - Cambridge Soul Tree
You always know where you stand with a drummer. They sit at the back, pound the rhythm and generally keep control apart from those solos they have to get in. However, when you have a band that ditches this in favour of some wooden boards and a metallic disc, you can't help but wonder what it's going to sound like...
Before that fun and games begin though, we're treated to some anthemic indie by Oxford favourites Fell City Girl. There are something’s we can thank Chris Martin for (a cracking debut album for one) but his and Coldplay's influence is perhaps getting a little over the top. These guys play really well and the lead singer has a great voice, but they're maybe trying a little too hard to do something BIG. Their numbers pass me by, all stirring choruses and guitar solos, but I couldn't help thinking they were just ticking off points on a checklist - slow melodic weepy: check, dramatic closing number with serious guitar duelling: check, songs about missing my true love: check. It was nice, but on a warm night left me feeling rather cool.
As Fell City Girl clear the stage and uncouple all their equipment, a girl approaches the stage with a Mary Poppins style carpet bag and guitar. With minimal setup, she plugs in her guitar and once the initial gremlins with her microphone have been cleared, she proceeds to sing with such a great voice that leaves those listening quiet in awe. This is Emmy The Great. A kind of kooky-folk style with a simple acoustic accompanyment, she sings songs about the circus and having her heart broken, the first thing that strikes me are her lyrics. Even the incessant chattering during her set can't drown her out; I've been pulled in, drawn into her world. This is one of the best live sets I've seen in a long time, I can't get her words out of my head whilst I write this, she was truly captivating.
After that, Tilly & The Wall have their work cut out. As they arrange their complex stage setup - wooden boxes, a sheet of metal over another set and keyboards - the crowd is genuinely intrigued, everyone wants to see what's going on. As they come on stage, the crowd surge to the front, wanting a front row spot not just to hear the music but to see the show (and, for some of the young men, the female contingent of the band).
What strikes me first about them is how country/folk their sound is live. It's pretty stripped back, mainly an acoustic guitar, bass and piano. Of course, there is no drum kit. We have a tap dancer instead. Oh yes, a tap dancer - skipping on the metallic disc set over some of the wooden boxes, she's delivering the rhythm whilst the others play around her. It surprisingly works; the two female vocalists are also dancing on accompanying boxes so the beat is deep and in tune with the music. People talk about Alt-Country, well this is it personified - traditional music with an added dimension, a way to refresh and update the sound. The only time this setup fails to work for me and disappoints is when they give Ms. Tap-Dancer a (well earned) rest and use a drum machine. It just sounds so alien to the rest of the music that it jars with it; it breaks the spell they've cast over you and I just couldn't get past it. Unfortunately most of their new songs feature this setup which doesn’t bode well for their new album.
Things are redeemed during the encore though with a version of their cult anthem Nights Of The Living Dead with it's almost slacker refrain of I want to fuck it up, it's great to hear live. The crowd chant it and it sounds like they mean it, but maybe Tilly & The Wall have already done it during the course of the evening.
Emmy The Great Myspace / Tilly & The Wall Myspace
Pictures courtesy of Phil Day