Oh St. Giles-In-The-Fields, how I love thee. Conveniently located in Central London, its superb acoustics, intimacy and unassuming beauty makes it the perfect venue for the discerning music lover. No wonder the usually confident Anglophone Emil Svanängen stumbled over his English phrases from time to time; if I had been given a chance to play such an amazing venue, I’d be tongue-tied too. But thankfully his sense of wonderment carried over to the music he played, in a set that further reinforced the Scandinavian stranglehold on superior harmonic folk-pop.
Much of the charm of Loney dear can be sourced back to ever-effusive main man Emil, whose evident joy at performing amplifies the quality of his best tracks, and papers over some of the cracks in the weaker ones. Performing several songs from his new album Dear John, I wasn’t quite convinced they really marked much of a departure from his breakthrough LP Loney, Noir but most of the songs were of a high enough quality to ensure that wasn’t much an issue. Taking a folksier, more stripped down approach to his material was a welcome move- the electric guitars and retina-destroying strobes at his IndigO2 show last year were pushing it a bit- and although co-singer Malin Ståhlberg was back home in Sweden her undulating harmonies were faithfully and impressively recreated by falsetto-blessed keyboard player Samuel Starck and drummer Ola Hultgren. For a couple of songs, Emil left the stage and performed unamplified in the aisle, his warm, accented Scandinavian vocals taking full advantage of the wonderful church acoustics. These moments showcased Emil at his best- he has a tendency to get carried away at times, but when he reins in his more florid vocal gymnastics and goes for simplicity, you truly get a measure of his considerable talent.
He’s always had had a penchant for singalongs too- it was seeing him successfully cajole an initially sceptical audience to provide harmonies during a support set two years ago that made me sit and take notice of this strange Swedish man- and he tried to get one going for his final song, ‘The Meter Marks OK’. Alas, in the face of an audience full of self-consciousness indie types, he only managed to muster a relatively muted response this time round, but given the surroundings it couldn’t help but sound amazing anyway. It wasn’t the longest set in the world, but it didn’t need to be – any longer, and he may have pushed his limited template beyond its natural limits. Restraint suits Loney dear well, and tonight he proved it once and for all.
Being a sophisticated venue for sophisticated people, St. Giles’ curfew was set unusually early, so there was only room for one support- ‘Blue Roses,’ the new project from Yorkshire songstress Laura Groves. An older, wiser performer than the nervy teenager that graced the stage of KCLSU in 2006, it’s heartening to see the complexity and character of her songwriting ripen with age. Taking a more distinctive direction than her previous work, her delicate and unfussy arrangements are well suited to the locale and interestingly, she seems to be moving towards Joanna Newsom’s epic balladry rather than the succinct anti-folk so in vogue in the moment amongst British female singer-songwriters. Her fey, lightweight vocals aren’t the strongest, and sometimes she struggled with the higher notes but nevertheless, I discerned some of the same intriguing promise I saw in Emil way back when.