Last night I experienced a unique and special performance in a rare and atmospheric venue. Arriving at the Salford Sacred Trinity Church under nightfall, treading gently on the old stones and entering into the dimly lit, red-tinged, glorious ceilinged space filled me with awe long before Linnea Olsson’s performance which literally multiplied that awe to jaw-dropping astonishment! Seeing a one woman show as breath-taking as Linnea’s would be impressive even in the dingiest of places but within this church setting, with a hint of incense hanging in the air, with a backdrop of relics and pulpit and altar, a hushed sense of wonder descended on the crowd and never left, even for a minute of for her extraordinary set.
Before Linnea, the crowd were warmed up by Matt Hamer who certainly coaxed some interesting acoustic sounds from his guitars and sang us heart-felt songs of love and longing.
Folk Remedy, a Manchester-based trio followed. Their sound ranged from jaunty to melancholic, and had some truly lovely interjections of violin/fiddle playing.
It was a warm, pleasant and entertaining evening but nothing could have prepared me for the power of Linnea Olsson even though I’ve been playing her current album “Ah” at home for weeks. I was looking forward to seeing how the album tracks could be replicated in a live setting, thinking surely it would be too complicated to really duplicate that multi-layered ambience on her own, in real time. How wrong was I? She didn’t duplicate it, she quadrupled it, elongated it, magnified it, turned it inside out and never missed a beat in the process.
The cello is an instrument capable of a diverse repertoire of sound, but Linnea has clearly learnt to master it with such precision and depth that she can create a spectrum I never imagined could be elicited from one instrument alone. With careful and imaginative use of looping she gave the impression she had a whole orchestra with her in the church, yet, at the same time there was something so pure and clear about her being the only source, the only voice. It was mesmerizing to watch, to listen, as she built each sonic chapter, knowing exactly how and when to peak, and when to subside. Her opening track was Ocean, like on the record. It’s the only instrumental track she performed and a perfect way to begin, letting the cello sing alone before revealing what a sublime singing voice she possesses herself. Ocean really does take you to the mighty water, it plunges to the sea-bed and soars to the skies, capturing the sea-gulls call, the whipped, hissing foam, the eternal heart-beat of the tide.
Title track of the album “Ah” is delivered next and the crowd are on the edge of their pews, startled by the power that is being generated from one woman and one cello. The song jumps around delightfully, punctuated with gasps of “Ah” – an expression of wonder, of love, of non-verbalized, non-specified emotion. “I have been alone, for so many days” she sings and tells of her desire to dance and find pleasure in company, in re-joining life after a solitary spell.
Linnea performed three covers and each she made her own whilst honouring the originals and carefully working in and around their structures. These were Unfinished Sympathy (Massive Attack), Sex Object (Kraftwerk) and Unravel (Bjork). She did something remarkable with all three. Unfinished Sympathy sounded so wounded and raw it surely tugged at even the coldest heart-strings. She transformed the industrial electronics of Kraftwerk into a very human plea for liberation and respect. This was powerful and appropriate material for International Women’s night which it happened to be that night.
It’s near impossible to pick a highlight of the set, because there were no lulls or lowlights but perhaps the song that truly stood out was a new song called I am Younger. Linnea did warn us that she broke down in tears on this track during the sound-check and it wasn’t difficult to see why. It was in some ways quite a simple song about her family and her love for them but when that love erupted, when she opened the flood-gates of her heart and let that feeling pour out it was irresistibly moving. I’m not ashamed to say I shed some tears too. A massive transmission of love was released into the shared space, it rose to the beams and circulated around the church, mingling with centuries of spiritual energy surely steeped into the walls.
This kind of musical talent doesn’t turn up every day. All I can really say is this. There’s an album called “Ah” available from Sweden’s Linnea Olsson and for some strange reason it’s one of the best kept secrets in town at the moment. Unfortunately I am Younger isn’t included but hopefully it will soon be released and the album does contain an adorable track called Guilt, which I personally love, but which wasn’t aired last night in Salford. The secret’s slipped out. It’s official. Linnea Olsson simply cannot be ignored. Salford Trinity Church was fully captivated last night. I’m truly thankful to have witnessed such a magical occasion.