Alexandra Streliski – Kings Place – May 7th 2019

Curiosity might have killed the cat. But it’s what keeps me alive. Later this week I’ll be heading to Brighton for my first festival of 2019, The Great Escape. That’ll be a frenetic rush around Brighton trying hard to get a glimpse of the next big thing. I’ll be a child in a sweet shop. 

So, in advance of the anticipated headiness of the next few days, tonight I opt for classical Canadian calm. 

As it happens, Alexandra Stréliski also plays The Great Escape. And, should I want a retreat from the rush, I might well check her out again on the coast. Her set at Kings Place, the multi-use space up by St Pancras, has chill by the bucketloads. This is one show that demands that you drift into a dreamland of your own making. 

Alexandra takes to the stage – a mass of curly brown hair hiding a slightly awkward yet utterly charming manner. She sits by a Steinway grand piano and proceeds to play. Smoke machines provide haze on the proceedings; they obscure Alexandra’s eccentricities. We just about spy her swoops and flourishes. 

Some of the instrumental pieces she plays, always ripe with melody, are accompanied with graphics appearing on a black curtain behind her. Art appears to aid exploration; an old video tape of a joyful Alexandra as a child playing her first keyboard is introduced and we all ponder for a moment on our own lost innocence.

Alexandra’s happy to be in London. She was last here as a fifteen year old and learnt one of life’s lessons when she drank too much alcohol and was hideously ill. This is her minor redemption. She tells all that she’s living a very specific dream by touring her music around the world, no longer a slave to the TV and film companies for whom she used to compose.

It’s meditative in tone; the piano, when played well, can take you away to imaginary places. And in this darkened room I suspect that most of us are shutting our eyes, dreaming our dreams  and focusing on a better future. That a gig can elicit such positivity is no bad thing. 

I add another to my Brighton longlist.. 

Sasha Siem – Fitzrovia Chapel – Tuesday February 19th 2019

I very much doubt that I’ll have many experiences in my London adventures quite like tonight. 

A few years ago now I wrote a review of a Sasha Siem album (here). It didn’t generate a great deal of chatter which disappointed me at the time because I thought the record was worthy of a listen – and I thought my writing about it hit the nail on the head in a way that I often don’t.

I tried to see Sasha’s set when I was at the Great Escape that year but got lost and waylaid turning up to only catch the final bars of her set.

And so, it was a bit of a surprise when I received an E-mail from Sasha’s PR person at the start of the year telling me about her new single that was to be imminently released. “We thought you might be interested in this because you’ve featured Sasha before”, suggested the mail. If only more acts that I feature did the same thing, I thought.

Hidden away in that press release was the announcement that Sasha would be playing a secret, intimate ‘family and friends’ show somewhere in London in February. Cheekily, I declared an interest.

This morning I got news that I was on the list for tonight’s show. A twenty minute walk from my office, I jumped at the chance to see Sasha Siem at the Fitzrovia chapel. 

At half seven, the small throng gathered outside was ushered into the grade 2 listed church, once part of the Royal Middlesex hospital but now surrounded by modern, glass-fronted development. A small oasis of calm, this chapel is kitted out to look ‘Italian Gothic’. Actually, only dating from 1929, the effect on entry is still one of ancient serenity.

I spy a small merch desk selling crystals, odours, mists and retreats amidst the more traditional fare of seven inch single and T-shirt. I quickly instruct my chakras to get into shape as I take a seat. There can be no more than 40 here. It really is imitate. 

More recital than gig, the peacefulness of the surround is amplified by a chap playing laidback notes of ambience on a keyboard at the front. It’s like the prelude to a wedding as you wait for a bride. Others clearly spend the time reacquainting with friends and contacts they’ve not seen for ‘a jolly long time’. The poshness is astonishing; I could well have gate-crashed a royal wedding. 

After a short introduction, Sasha is ushered to the front. She appears, looking radiant in a turquoise flowing dress and sits behind the keyboard. Graceful, slender and adopting a pose as far removed from a slouch as is possible, she’s a true, classical beauty. Her long dark hair is preened to perfection; rock ‘n’roll this is not. 

Mostly playing songs from her new album that’s due for release in June, Sasha admits to insecurities and vulnerabilities. She’s never been without a band before on stage and these stripped-back, intimate acoustic arrangements of her songs aren’t something that feel familiar. But this is a friendly crowd and we’re all urging her to succeed. When you shut your eyes and allow yourself to drift you can really get caught up in the combination of voice and keys; a spiritual magic is being spread.

In a break from keyboard action, a ukulele-wielding Sasha asks those with bells placed strategically under their seats to gently ring them during a number in which she saunters up and down the chapel aisle. Her cello gets the briefest of outings; one song from the back catalogue.

Back behind the keys, Sasha talks of enlightened moments when she forgave a betrayal. Motherhood has clearly had an impact on her outlook on life as she tells all about two year old, Dylan,

After a one-song encore, the performance ends. An unforgettable experience in stunning surrounds, it’s hard not to leave with your holy head held wholly high. I stroll back to the tube at Oxford Circus and re-enter the real world.