Zoe Graham played at the intimate King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut in front of an adoring crowd last week. King Tut’s has hosted many massive acts, from Snow Patrol to Radiohead, and Zoe lived up to the pedigree.
The concert was part of Celtic Connections, Scotland’s winter festival which celebrates Scottish music & musicians.
Spread across Scotland’s largest city, Glasgow, it invites musicians from around the globe and attracts thousands of visitors, who pack the city’s most spectacular venues for concerts, ceilidhs, art exhibitions and much more.
It can occasionally lean towards the old-fashioned, but Thursday night’s show was evidence that Celtic Connections is very much moving with the times.
John Edge & The Kings Of Nowhere opened for Zoe Graham and their genre-defying melodies are a perfect example of Celtic Connection’s modernisation.
The band self-describe their music as “folk musings” but that doesn’t really scratch the surface. The musicians from the Scottish Highlands manage to be multi-layered yet superbly smooth, bringing to life their Celtic roots.
The band could be compared to Scottish synthpop band Prides, except they’ve torn out all the keyboard and autotune and fired three acoustic guitars in its place.
The music somehow manages to roll over the crowd like a physical thing — this is maybe where the patriotic vibe comes from, with their tunes emulating the landscape.
But that’s a deeply pretentious description of a deeply unpretentious band. The five musicians on stage have obviously known each other a while, and if not, they enjoy the act of playing alongside each other. The jokes between songs, the natural smiles and banter, all point to the bond these five artists share – something which is invaluable to smaller artists trying to make their reputation. John Edge & the Kings of Nowhere have the advantage being a five-piece band. When you are a solo artist, however you have to work a little harder to create a atmosphere around you.
Zoe Graham does this with ease.
Zoe – a fairly short, 21-year-old Weegie gal with a great big guitar – proves that appearances are deceiving as she easily fills the rooms with her presence.
As well as a great big guitar, she has a great big voice – clear, slightly accented, somewhat ethereal. It’s a voice that makes her recorded singles sound personal and emotional (they’re available on Spotify in case you don’t believe me) but her live performances change the nature of her music, becoming a bit less emotional and even more powerful. It’s definitely music that will make you sit up and listen.
I’ve reviewed Zoe before, when she was performing solo. It’s all very slow, very moving, and a little melancholic. This time, backed by several musicians, the difference is startling. Personally, I’d call it an improvement.
The emotion that disappears from the softer songs changes them into these big powerful room-filling anthems. Industrial Strength, which on record is a quirky little tune, got completely turned on its head. The core of the song remains the same though – Zoe’s songs all have a synthy soul, all very indie.
She returned to her solo portfolio for a few last songs and for an artist of her size, getting called on for an encore is pretty nuts, for which she played Anniesland Lights. This last moment reflected her range. Her last song, a track called Know By Now, had this big rock-on drum-solo finish. But for the encore, she returned to break hearts with her soft little ballad.
I have big hopes for Zoe Graham. Her music, her lyrics and her on-stage chat are all so refined and full of personality. If nothing else, she’s a unique character and definitely one to keep an eye on.
John Edge & The Kings of Nowhere have plenty songs on their Youtube and a few on Spotify, and you can keep an eye on their Facebook and Instagram (@johnedge_thekings) for updates on their forthcoming album.
By Bryce Arthur