Brooke Bentham & IMOGEN – The Islington – December 9th 2019

I feel that I’m limping over the 2019 finish line; the Christmas break can’t come soon enough as I crawl towards the end of the year picking up all manner of debilitating December bugs. The general disappointment of last week’s General Election result just compounds the overall effect. The cold and flu remedies do little to lift the malaise and the chesty coughs. 

Going out is a chore. This wonderful city that I’ve explored with wide-eyed curiosity throughout the year is now nothing more than a miserabilist’s damp dream. Rather than explore the mean streets, my over-arching desire is to hibernate underneath my duvet. I don’t do that though. Life must go on and this will all get better. 

It certainly will by next week. I’m off to Spain for Christmas, back to the villa where Sonic Breakfast spent much of 2018. Some blue sky and warmer temperatures will no doubt sort me out. Whilst there I plan to do a 2019 top ten countdown. I’ll write about ten gigs this year that caught my eye. The list won’t be an obvious one. 

I did manage to get to the Islington last week before the infection really took hold. The Islington is a pub/music venue no more than five minutes walk from the front door of my Guardianship. I’ve visited before but tonight I’m also committed to taking notes. Headliner, Brooke Bentham, takes a break from her Sam Fender support slots to impress us with tunes from her imminent album release. Support act, IMOGEN, puts in an act of such quality that the Geordie’s really do throw down the gauntlet and declare they’re ready for a more dominant profile in 2020.

IMOGEN has the most beautiful of folk-pop voices. It rasps and lilts over the top of a laidback melancholic, sometime morbid sound to exude mournful precision. There are no guitars on sight here; keyboards, electronics and a small sprinkling of brass lead us down a jazz-tinged trip-hop path; if Beth Gibbons was mixed with The Unthanks, this is what you might expect. The band, dressed in black, contrast with the red satin curtain surrounds of the venue. The craft is always well considered. IMOGEN declares that the video for ‘I wish I were you’ came out all of ten minutes ago. I resolve to watch it when I get home. ‘We never dance do we?’ Is all about leaving home and the impact it has upon relationships. IMOGEN best get used to the itinerant lifestyle in the glamorous years to come.

In terms of output, the two Geordie lasses are chalk and cheese. Brooke Bentham’s sound is a more traditionally indie one, a shimmering ghostly Americana with her guitar duelling with that of Bill Ryder-Jones’ for centre stage. It’s easy to see why Bill waxes lyrical about Brooke. Her songs and the delivery of them have an effortless drawl, a timeless charm that marks the forthcoming album ‘Everyday Nothing’ down as one to give serious attention to when it comes out in February. Bill slides between guitars and places his Rickenbacker over his shoulder, the faded Coral guitar strap on show for all to see. Only some in the crowd recognise him; for most he’s just one of Brooke’s band. “We’re only playing new songs tonight“, says Brooke, confident and captivating, before the band launch into a charming cover of ‘Love will tell us apart’.

When I next write I’ll likely be in Spain. The Tories will still be corrupt. 2020 will be closer and two acts from Newcastle will have acquired more fans. 


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