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A quiet Monday in the office, working through e-mails, I open one from Mancunian Matters, what’s this….free tickets on offer to see a band who produced one of my favourite albums of all time, surely not. Quick response and within a matter of hours, entry to Guillemots at the Hard Rock Café is secured, a gig commencing the countdown to London's Hard Rock Calling Festival in July, at which the band will also appear .  Jump forward a day and here we are, somehow managing to gate crash the V.I.P bar (purely by accident of course) waiting in anticipation for a wonderfully intimate gig. The Hard Rock proves an inspired venue, excellent lighting and a high stage create perfect viewing conditions for the majority.  Also apparent during support act LYXX, the sound extremely good, which bodes well for the more intricate headliners later.  The female quartet kick things off in raucous style, having won a battle of the bands contest to secure the slot. Theirs a grunge rock sound, the reaction suggesting a ground swell of local support and in fairness the set is solid enough, although not especially inspiring.  This a genre of music played to the death over the years, taking a band with genuinely inspirational ideas and massive stage presence to breathe any new life, which LYXX don’t quite possess. There’s time however, a little more individuality required.

While the benefits of Guillemots releasing a truly wonderful debut album are obvious, difficulties arrive soon after, expectations making subsequent recordings surely more daunting. “Through the Windowpane” a true masterpiece, containing some of the best pop songs of the last decade and in “Sau Paulo” one of the great epic closing tracks, the sophomore “Red” always destined to pale alongside, exhibiting perhaps too much emphasis on writing potentially big hit singles. A definite return to form and structure surfaced within “Walk the River” and 2012 destined to become an intriguing and exciting year for band and fans alike, new album “Hello Land” released last month, one of four scheduled this year with a concept based around the seasons. 

Perhaps slightly surprisingly, the set opens with “Kris Kross” from “Red” although immediately apparent, Guillemots on top form, exhuberant and more than happy  back on stage. Fyfe Dangerfield proves the obvious focus, an ungainly presence endearing himself wholly to the adoring female contingent present, if my wife’s reaction anything to go by.  An aura of vulnerability surrounds him, suggesting a highly talented musician, who perhaps struggles with the normal routine of life. On a number of occasions his between song banter dissolves into random thoughts, which he apologises for, only making his personality even more engaging.  Give the man a microphone however, sit him behind a keyboard or put a guitar in his hand, an assured, composed persona arises, thoroughly captivating vocals emanating from within his gangly frame.  The falsetto tones of “Southern Winds” taken from the new album and an acoustic version of “Annie, Let’s not Wait” particular cases in point. 

While the opportunity to air new material is taken, absorbed greedily by the audience, classic Guillemots receive the most enthusiastic response. A gorgeous version of “Made Up Love Song #43” enraptures, while “Trains to Brazil” reaps most movement.  A real age spread fills The Hard Rock Café, attesting to the melodious elements on offer, although I’m always intrigued by the conflicting nature versus the guitar work of MC Lord Magrao. His, not a conventional style, instead, scything and sawing at the strings , creating effects laden soundscapes, rather than traditional chord or note structures, seemingly at odds whilst still maintaining cohesion. This further attests Guillemots not just the Fyfe Dangerfield show, the band completely intrinsic to the unique sound, Aristazabel Hawkes providing vibrant support on bass duties and Greig Stewart’s drumming a revelation, intricate rhythms abound, the increased levels of intensity both audible and visual via a wide variety of facial expressions. 

All too soon the gig comes to a close, a 10.30 curfew in place, ending the only way possible with aforementioned “Sau Paulo” a musical extravaganza of immense proportions showcasing an impeccable cessation to an outstanding performance.  Guillemots proving, if proof indeed required, they still maintain a position as slightly eccentric, but totally exhilarating live band.  Three more albums this year and hopefully subsequent gigs…… Annie, come on guys, let’s not wait.

Review by Andy Barnes                 

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