St Philips Church, Salford. 14/07/2010
By Chris Gilliver
I was having a conversation the other day with a friend about why the Church of England has lost favour. My argument was that the C of E blows in the wind too much, adapting itself too readily to modern trends thus debasing its integrity as a moral authority. It should be setting the standards not following them. So after I’ve torn myself into the drizzly summer night and made my way reluctantly to St Philips Church in Salford what do I find? A leaflet offering, “Today’s Service: Bombay Bicycle Club and Friends”, a bar, and a prayer hall full of drunk parishioners supping Satan’s drink. Point proven! But, simultaneously you have to hand it to them. Without this show St Philips would be just another empty church struggling to fix the leaking roof. The bar takings will help turn the tide. Plus the acoustics are excellent, and the oddly Ancient Greek settings are pretty imbuing in the congregation a placid sense of civility that might otherwise be lacking.
I come in and watch Lucy Rose finishing the last two songs of her set. She impresses. Like Laura Marling she combines a melancholy vulnerability with a noticeable underlying toughness that gives her voice a captivating edge. I like her and wish I’d come a bit earlier to catch the rest of her set.
I’m on my own so I hit the bar (pretty softly as it’s a church), buy a drink, and talk to a stranger about the implications of a stage invasion up to and onto the altar. It would have to be civilised with a few pleases and thank yous, and sitting instead of jumping and clapping. The last time I say Melodica, Melody and Me was at Mad Ferret a year or two back. It was the musical highlight of an excellent festival, and MMM were the beneficiaries of a much more raucous stage invasion. Where the sunshine of Platt Fields provided an airy, carefree flex, this rainy evening and the sombre surroundings add a serious gravitas to proceedings. The band looks older and slightly nervous – now they know how a vicar/priest feels.
It’s a lovely if cagey set by a band with a sound that’s hard to pinpoint. A bit reggae, but not really, the singer enunciates like Johnny Flynn, but the rest of the band are more West African than plumb English (in style if not in ancestry). The Kora, a 21 string harp-flute that sounds like raindrops in a rainforest (you might have seen a toothy guy playing one in Piccadilly Gardens), is brought in halfway through to accentuate this point. Occasionally MMM sounds like the soundtrack to a Malibu advert, but mainly they throw bouncy acoustic pop and melancholy with equal measures that thoroughly charms. The instrumentation is unremittingly phenomenal. When the singer isn’t supplying tales of heart ache, the rest of them are playing notes that are far more than just filler. They are a band in name and essence. Essentially, these guys are fucking awesome and on the ascent. Look the other way at your peril…not that they’re dangerous…I hope!