Words by Alex Platt | Header Image: David Alexander Harris
Even though I’ve lived here for 24 years of my life (apart from three dark and cold years in the small northern town of Bolton for university) it still amazes me how much of London there still is to discover. I like to think I get out lots, that I’m a social butterfly, always discovering new places to eat and drink and observe and dance in (although if you really want then ANYWHERE is somewhere you can dance). This time though, I’m specifically talking about the Shoreditch Town Hall. It’s strange because I’ve walked and driven past it absolutely countless times, but had no idea what it was or what was inside. It was just another ancient building of the city, a permanent fixture in the background of the vast grey. But tonight, tonight I’m going in.
I’m here to see folk duo Novo Amor and Ed Tullett. Both accomplished solo performers in their own rights, they’ve been working on a collaborative album, ‘Heiress’, together for the last 4 years, which has finally been released this month. Tonight, they’re here in London playing a special one-off show to mark the occasion, a sort of rare appearance album release show. I’ve known of Novo Amor for a few years now, ever since I first heard his gorgeous cover of Welcome to The Jungle for an online Lynx deodorant ad (say what you want about Lynx but their dragon fruit shower gel was banging and this ad was a thing of beauty that I didn’t even skip when it popped up in front of any YouTube video I was trying to watch). Since then I’ve been following him closely, lapping up his new music, whenever it was released (to this date he’s released two eps and a smattering of singles, each one fantastic in their own right). When he released the single ‘Alps’ with Tullett, it got me excited for what the future was going to bring for them both. Now, I’m about to find out.
The inside of the Shoreditch Town Hall is vast and beautiful, so much bigger than it looks from the outside. There are two levels (seating upstairs) and a tall grand stage, easily viewable from wherever you decide to stand or sit. The ceiling arches up and barrels out in a huge cylinder shape. You could easily mistake it for a small-scale opera house. I’m a little late, so when I walk in the opening support artist, Fenne Lily, is on stage in full swing, or as much swing as one person and her acoustic guitar can be.
Sounding like the UK’s answer to Julien Baker, Lily immediately grabs my attention. Her voice is soft and delicate yet full of strength. It’s impressive to see and hear one person dominate such a large venue on their own, but she makes it look easy. She easily jokes and talks to the audience in-between each song, giving us a little context – before playing her song Carpark she quips “This is a song about how I expected men to be…better”, for example. But she easily switches back into folk singer as soon as she strums her guitar. Standing centre stage and bathed in purple light with smoke lazily swirling all around her, it almost looks like it is coming from her, as if her soul was slowly ascending towards the ceiling as she performs each song. With her last song (Top to Toe) she asks the audience for their interpretation of it, saying only one person has ever guessed what it’s truly about (she then tells us a story about how a person with a limited grasp of English asked her if it was about ‘shameful incest’ to which she replied “is there a form of incest that isn’t shameful?”). It’s a fun little moment to end her set on and I can confidently say she’s gained a new fan.
The venue is very busy now, but there’s still plenty of space around me. I’ve got the perfect spot straight in the middle with a clear view to the stage (no giants standing in front of me) and, so far, everyone has been on fairly good behaviour with a limited smattering of chatter when Lily was performing. I’ve long known that the universe had a plan for me to spend every gig standing next to the loudest and most disrespectful morons on the planet but tonight seems to be an exception, for now. More on that later.
The lights dim and the music playing over the PA fades out, and Novo Amor and Ed Tullett take to the stage. They are backed by a drummer, violinist, guitarist/bassist and keyboardist. I wasn’t sure how they would perform the songs, if it would be closer to an acoustic show, so to see a full band backing them is wonderful. There’s no messing around as they launch straight into it. Now, I have to admit, I’m terrible with song names, so if I get this wrong then I’m incredibly sorry.
Amor and Tullett seem completely at ease up on the stage, easily joking with each other and the band and the audience. You can tell that Amor (real name Ali John Meredith-Lacey) has some nerves, but these are easily kept in place by Tullett. The pair play a mix of songs from Heiress and Amor’s solo career, which was another pleasant surprise! I wasn’t sure if they would just be playing songs from Heiress, but Tullett seems incredibly clued up on Amor’s songs as they perform them together, their voices reaching a beautiful harmony and never breaking. The only time anything goes a little askew is just as they’re about to perform one of Amor’s solo songs, From Gold, his nerves seem to get the better of him, but with plenty of encouragement from the crowd he gets back on track in no time.
Now, let’s just have a tiny little chat about gig talkers. I promise, it won’t be a long paragraph. You can skip right past it if you don’t care. But you should. You should care a lot. It became clear to me that nothing had changed with the previously mentioned plan the universe had for me. This time was no different, as I found myself standing next to a large group of, who I can only describe as, dorks. Loud, drunk dorks. Oh-this-is-my-first-ever-gig-and-also-my-first-ever-beer-lol-aren’t-I-funny kind of dorks. They spoke, and shouted, repeatedly throughout the show. At one point someone behind them drops their drink but manages not to spill any and one of the dorks turns around and bellows, BELLOWS, “OH IT’S A CHRISTMAS MIRACLE” just before the band are about to start playing again. It stops them in their tracks and all I can think is “How rude”. There is also a woman standing next to them who has taken it upon herself to try and get Amor to play her favourite song of his, Callow. To do this she repeatedly shouts out “CALLOW. CALLOW. PLAY CALLOW. I WANT CALLOW. IT’s HIS BEST SONG. PLAY CALLOW”. She does this while the band are performing and while they’re setting up for the next song. It shouldn’t take anyone to tell you this but when you go to a gig DO NOT call out the names of your favourite songs unless the band specifically ask. They have a setlist already planned out for the evening. They’re not going to change it for you and your incessant moronic whinnying, you absolute cretin. Just, for the love of god, keep your stupid ugly mouth closed and let everyone else enjoy it. Is that too much to ask? But of course, I did the most British of things and just kept my mouth shut and occasionally gave her a dirty side-eye.
The band finish on what I think is the song ‘Cavalry’, which rises to a tremendous crescendo that fills the entire town hall. They leave the stage before coming back for a short encore and cheers and whoops from the crowd. It’s a lovely thing to see and hear. It’s always lovely when an artist you’ve been following for some years finally gets the recognition they deserve, and Amor and Tullett deserve it all. As they finish the encore they line up and take a bow like they’ve just finished a West End play, and judging by the noise and applause from the audience it won’t be long until they’re selling out huge, grand theatres across the country.