Live Review: Martin Harley Band, Bodega (20/3/13)

Reverential silence descends on the intimate crowd clustered around The Martin Harley Band. They shed microphones, bass and drums in favour of two acoustic guitars and a Russian balalaika. Breaking into a performance of ‘Winter Coat’, the haunting vocals of Martin Harley entrance us; a song so heartbreakingly beautiful it has driven hairy, tattooed, leathered bikers into states of sobbing despair. I realise that I’m holding my breath, lost in intricate guitar picking, harmonising and stunningly poignant lyrics.

The Martin Harley band is a British Blues trio fronted by Martin Harley, a British singer-songwriter hailing from Surrey. Having released three albums on independent record labels, the band have toured extensively and are renowned for using an obscure cocktail of instruments in live performances including the balalaika, a Weissenborn guitar and cajon.

The soft, bluesy melodies of songs such as ‘Darcy’s Car’ and ‘Cowley Road’ carry a raw, unpolished edge in their live performance. The vocals are refreshingly gruff in comparison to the sharpened material on ‘Drumrolls for Somersaults’. It is these moments that are abrasively intimate and hypnotising in their execution.

As the band violently bursts into ‘Take What You Want’, fist pumping and hip thrusting reigns supreme in my peripheral vision, as an enthusiastic elderly gentleman clad in leather jacket and workman’s boots takes the floor by storm. Inspiring an entourage of followers, a woman with zero spacial awareness comes dangerously close to clobbering us with a handbag, while a smattering of teenagers begin to barndance in a crazed manner.

After a refreshingly brief encore, The Martin Harley Band negotiates peace with the baying crowd by performing two more numbers. As the last melancholic notes ebb away into the silence, we burst into enthusiastic hollering.

Helena Murphy

…Helena has been listening to Bonobo – ‘Kiara’…


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