Emily Magpie / The Mother’s Ruin, Bristol | 16th of January

Emily Magpie / The Mother’s Ruin, Bristol | 16th of January

It can be easy to churn out strikingly linear reviews. I have a tendency to do so. Then they played this song and it was nice and then they played this song and I thought this.

Such a format would be all but lost on a character and act like Emily Magpie. An ambient, soulful, techno-poppy chimera of fun, her music makes for quite the live experience. Listening to her, you’re not quite sure whether to shake and move or stand and sway. Either would be fine, for both are laced with admiration.

The sounds and thoughts of this chilly Tuesday evening arrived downstairs. A very small, very intimate room, largely red in colour with a short string of fairy lights hung clumsily over the stage. I caught a couple of earlier acts. Jack Nash (a quick fingered acoustic guitarist) performed a relaxing set. Occasionally he picked and shifted over simple loop pedal beats. I watched him over the shoulder of a broad man sketching him. Next was Ara. He plays piano and sings. He does both well. A percussion board for effects and samples, too. His penultimate track had a sweet rhythm on the keys at the end, unexpected and delightful. Largely introspective lyricism.

Emily Magpie took to the stage. With red-pink hair tied in a loose bun and a cool dark navy jumper, slacked off on one shoulder, she tuned her ukulele and sound-checked some percussion samples on her switchboard. This is still a bit A-to-(what live music should not)-B.

Her voice is wonderful. Strong, relaxed, soulful, observant, it works perfectly over the (key) combination of the uke’s high licks and body-rocking bass.

Some notes on the set:

  • A track from her first release – Same Stuff – called Angel Face. A stunning song, detailing lost love and despondency – “we come in with nothing we go out alone”. Then, acceptingly, we’re only human. Sweet processed snare and ukelele high points dictate its reminiscence.
  • From the same EP, a number named Moon & Stars, a constellation introduced as a “depressing song about London”, and she noted that “half wouldn’t have been written” amidst the “much better” feel of Bristol. She speaks and jokes between music. In conversation as in music, she is compelling in her storytelling. This track utilised a rim-click, up against a lightly played shut hi-hat (this all came from the launchpad); the slow ukulele rhythm emphasised the ‘ooh’s’ and progressively distorted voice work.
  • From her 2017 EP ‘The Witching Hour’: Leave It To Fate. Its performance, fitting of the content, kept semi-ending then jolting back to life and warm musicality. The crowd enjoyed this. The crowd was small enough in number but, packed into the room, it was lively. I sense all had a good time. Her second release is more ethereal, more abstracted. Somewhat spiritual, even. This is manifest in the opening lyric, a question,  ‘how can you wait, for something you can’t see’? The duality of voices – forceful lead and looped backing support – accentuate the sense of being ‘clouded in confusion’. It is a fine meandering song, again one of yearning, again following a narrative arc of despair to control. ‘Fate…me’.
  • The titular track of that 2017 release (and the final one she performed) – The Witching Hour. An empowering work, its lyrics evoke femininity with enchanting vocal work layered over freakishly quick hi-hat hits. There is a lot going on in the track (as there is in the album’s artwork) including a consistent, muffled ukulele rhythm and frantic snare every sixth beat. That said, it doesn’t seem excessively frenzied. A brief and fine spell of piano, a wonder reserved for ‘when the moon answers back’.
  • ‘I’m going to do a kind of acoustic cover of a song I really like’.
  • Ghost starts off tropically, a simple rhythm allowed out into the room, doused in resonance. Another allusion to a past relationship. ‘It came too fast, it never lasts’. Atmospheric effects drop in and out, their impermanence ‘a soft outline’ to the steady played riff. Stay.
  • High plucks of the top two strings (plus a little light xylophone) set a horror film like feel. Ominous corridors, corners turned to wonderful, punching bass and then another slow wander on dusty carpet. This may have absolutely 0 resemblance to the intent in the track, but it’s where I went for a short time. Paint our faces and pound our chests – claps come in, summoning life to the scene, almost ritualistically so. Get those demons off our backs carries on the introspection of her recent EP. ‘What are we looking for? Another way’. It’s a lament. The quick exhales after this statement offer up a semblance of hope, a relief in realisation. Backing vocals waver, a fine ambient accompaniment, and hints of violin peak and drop in the instrumental outro. It’s called When We Find It. A great track.
  • Ah yes, the cover. It was Alt-J hit Emily Magpie, her ukulele, a small crowd. Only high spirits, though. Muscle to muscle, toe to toe. The final passage was a collaborative affair and took the room to another song, one of those fine series of minutes that I’ve tried to nonsequentially detail above.

Captivating. Infectious. Fun.


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