THE only things missing from this performance by Glasgow’s Trembling Bells were a lysergic liquid light show and a bedraggled hippie mother breastfeeding her newborn.
They otherwise succeeded in recreating the atmospheres of both a San Francisco ballroom circa 1967 and a free Shropshire music festival circa 1971. No mean feat.
Switching effortlessly between intense, pulsating rock and dewy Celtic balladry, they exist at the precise solar nexus between US psychedelia and the British folk revival of the late 1960s.
Most of their songs dance around the maypole of guitarist/keyboardist Lavinia Blackwall, a striking shawl and pendant-wearing presence (even her keyboard wore tassels) whose extraordinary vocals evoke the thundering Valkyrie bombast of Jefferson Airplane’s Grace Slick and the exquisite, foggy-pane soul of Fairport Convention’s Sandy Denny. It’s a beautiful, at times unnerving collision of worlds.
While it’s difficult to talk about Trembling Bells without referencing their obvious influences, what makes them more than an exercise in mere retro pastiche is the strength, sincerity and eccentric character of their material. They feed off the past to create something special of their own.
Some background: they were formed in 2008 by drummer/vocalist Alex Neilson, a restless spirit who has collaborated with numerous artists from the free and improvised music scene, as well as more folk-orientated acts such as Alasdair Roberts and “Bonnie” Prince Billy.
They’ve since released three albums in as many years on the Damon Albarn co-owned label, Honest Jon’s Records. Even their release schedule harkens back to the past.
This bewitching performance was largely built around material from their forthcoming album, although a brief moment of technical difficulty led to an impromptu a cappella airing of Seven Years a Teardrop from 2009 début Carbeth. A strange, poetic closing time duet between Blackwall and Neilson, its pristine harmonies could’ve silenced an inferno. Those gremlins in the machine were a blessing.
Typically, they made a heartbeat switch into a climactic amplified rave-up during which Blackwall hammered her keys and banshee-wailed like a woman possessed.
A swirling dervish of fabric and hair, she resembled nothing so much as Jane from Rod, Jane and Freddy freaking out at the Rainbow summer solstice. Glorious.
The music of the spheres is safe in the hands of these esoteric guardians.
(Seen on 13.07.14)