Islington Mill, Salford. 11/02/2010
By Elinor O’Neill
There is something wonderfully mysterious about attending a gig at the Islington Mill. Everyone has heard of it before but no one is sure if it still exists or if it does where exactly it is. Every taxi I clamber in to I am faced with a driver who dithers for a few minutes before coming clean that without a postcode he has no idea how to get there. Three taxis and the end of my tether later I am forced to 118 it and armed with the name of the road and with my driver being talked through the directions from base because he trusts not his tom-tom I arrive at the venue with minutes to spare only to find the door is still closed.
It all feels mysteriously cloak and dagger especially as I meet my companion for the evening; who I have only contacted through email in the past; under the light of a lamp post as I search for clues of how to get within and he tries to find a match for his cigarette. We conclude we have both been previously but struggle to remember what it was like as one rarely arrives at Islington Mill in a sensible state and when the bouncers finally open we stalk inside curious about the delights the venue will hide.
Inside the mill it is like a tunnel from a horror movie which one must run endlessly along haunted as much by one’s pursuer as the dreadful lighting. We are in Salford now and I conclude normal regulations do not apply as I spot that the grainy black and white projections of images of photos of bands long broken apart are laid up on the wall with the aid of an ancient machine held above us with little more than parcel string.
The mill is packed out and it is the crowd which I find get me glowing before the warm up act have even begun. There are business executives, lawyers, high street chain employees wearing name badges, members of the gay community, students, kids and gentlemen of all ages; I even see what appear to be tradesmen in high-vis jackets.
Laurence of Arabia the support act come on to a promising start with a voice which is amplified by the gritty bare walls and dusty floors. I want them to call out echo, but instead they announce they have broken a string and in a slap-stick start to the evening, Tom, who we are told is integral to the act disappears off like Rambo to remedy the problem.
The first two songs concern me as I worry that in spite of their friendly demeanour and brilliant vocals the lyrics are lacking a little on The Crew Of The Commodore however their third song, a swift improvisation to save face whilst we wait for Tom is cracking. With the chorus, “You Beautiful Militant” and lines like “Domestics are Breaking out/ Consumer rights are consuming you/ There’s ants in your sugar and ants in your tea they show they are unafraid to break away from clichés in their music and put out a bit of a message in an entertaining way without jarring some really very jolly tunes.
They have been compared in the past to the TV show Flight Of The Concords as they too are from New Zealand and it is a comparison they have not taken too happily too; “That one TV show has ruined our entire country.” Although it is this show which means I no longer consider their country to be an island of Australia, their performance and humour in the face of the many stage snags which include a faulty microphone, a missing guitarist and of course the snapping string mean they are far more suited to comparisons to Beirut and even particularly during their syruppy harmonies, the Beach Boys than the cult TV series.
When the gallant Tom re-enters the set during Apple Pie Bad which has some really heart warming harmonies you get the sense of fun and camaraderie between them as mid-song they let out a collective sigh of relief before taking the song in a different direction. At times I am on the verge of irritation at how many directions their music runs off in during the course of one song but they are enough in command to mesh it skilfully back together making a maple syrup enhanced buttered waffle which is most definitely good.
Before Beach house get started I scan the stage looking for the headline act and spot a man dressed in nautical navy gear and conclude this must be the voice of Beach House, because of this when the lights dim and a slender whippet like beauty with huge endearing eyes takes to the ancient keyboard coated in white fluff at the centre of the stage I am slightly put out. Why is the lead singer lurking at the back, who is this impostor?
As she launches into the first song however my doubts are silenced, coming from this hair cloaked cherub is a voice so powerful it can only be she who is the lead singer in this band. She has such incredible stage presence that the other band members though both brilliant and diverse in their craft fade into the background and by the time Norway starts I feel a pull of euphoria so strong I close my eyes and am overcome with the desire to lie back into the field of poppies which surely surround me. Luckily a teen-bopper spills his disco juice down my cream coat and I remember I am in a derelict mill in Salford.
As I practice self-control I am released from the spell enough to observe my fellow gigians all of whom seem to be equally trapped in the haze of her strong vocals. It really is hard to believe the scope of this girl’s sound and all around me people are closing their eyes and swaying with their partners utterly mesmerised.
Thanks to the venues natural ability to lend an atmosphere of antiquity to every act as my companion said there were times he was convinced he had fallen back in time to a club in 20th century Berlin. The tracks merge together and though I miss the banter we were treated to by Laurence of Arabia it does mean the mood is maintained throughout and during Heart of Chambers I feel a melancholy so strong I wonder whether Magnolia and Vanilla Sky should be remade to incorporate a sound which is far superior in its pull on one’s heart strings than Sigur Ros.
The heat of the place rises as everyone packs in to get closer to the set which is so bare and simple you feel as though you are watching them play from inside a photograph of the dust bowls of America during the depression. The sound is earnest and with little reliance on gadgets, gismos and stunts the performance is stripped to the sound of Beach House which is utterly stunning.