Gazel and Gurl – St Pancras Old Church – November 4th 2019

2019 has been good for me. The nights draw in, the fireworks light up the sky, Christmas calls from around the corner and those of us with a romantic bent can’t help but get a bit reflective. At a ripe old age I’ve finally descended upon London and thrown myself into all that it has to offer. 

There are moments from the year, memories that can be plucked from its ether that will register above others. First visits to venues that I’ve since grown to love will always resonate. When I initially stumbled upon Hackney’s fine Paper Dress Vintage, I caught Gazel in full.flow. Gurl were her support band on that balmy evening as well. My review (here) suggests that I’d be a fool to not see Gazel again before the year is out. 

St Pancras Old Church is a venue I’ve wanted to get along to for a little while. The programme there tends towards acoustic Americana and that’s right up my alley as regular readers of Sonic Breakfast will know. But tonight, in a repeat viewing of that fine night back in May, Gazel and Gurl are once again challenged to warm me up. The seasons have changed; you need a coat and a mulled wine in addition to the acts tonight. The line-up is familiar.

St Pancras Old Church is an odd beast. I’ve been to music venues in decommissioned churches before yet it seems that this space still doubles up as a place of worship. Perhaps that why on entering that the atmosphere feels subdued; it’s like you’re gatecrashing a wedding of somebody you barely know. A cash bar sells an array of alcohol in cans and bottles. I crack open a can as I sit on one of the pew-like seats and feel desperately short-changed when I realise that my beer won’t quite fit in the hymn-book holder of the seat in front. 

It seems that Gurl are similarly spooked by their religious surrounds. Their lead singer says as much a few songs in. The vocal range is as impressive as the first time I saw them and yet the overall performance feels more restrained. The songs still stand out as quality as the music ebbs and flows between 80’s influenced pop and fulł-on glam. The band again repeat how they fortuitously met Gazel via a social media connection. There’s clearly much love and respect between the two. And they’re a band you can’t help but like.

Gurl might have been a bit constrained by the church but the opposite is true of Gazel. Where Paper Dress Vintage might have felt a bit too hemmed in, the extra space afforded to Gazel within this venue allows her expansive vision to truly come alive. So, lights in strong shades of purple, pink, white and red bounce around the nave and ceiling of the church like spirits on the escape from Gazel’s Book of spells. This is the official album release of her Book of Spells, a perfect opportunity to marry the spiritual with the concept in appropriate surrounds. 

Gazel takes to the stage clutching a miners lamp. Wrapped in a green robe and with long curls running down her back, she’s every inch the fantasy figure from your favourite fairy story. She sings sweetly as her band (a keyboardist and drummer) create the fabric. Like Madonna in her Ray Of Light period, Gazel draws upon middle Eastern rhythm to add flourish to her pop. She dances provocatively and giddily twists, a dervish of fun in a sanctuary of friends. 

For some, the pretension within the art might be too much. It’s true that the concept is a busy one that demands attention. And Gazel’s hyperactivity doesn’t cease; she bangs a drum, she reads poetry from her book and now she plays notes on her violin. For most though, the overall impact is engaging. And when all are urged to stand and dance at the end of the set, we oblige. The room has gone evangelical in its praise of Gazel. 

With her debut album launched, we wait to see what her next twist, turn and trick might be. 

Gazel & Gurl – Paper Dress Vintage – May 1st 2019

Wednesday night in the city – and it’s a hat-trick of new venues visited by Sonic Breakfast. Paper Dress Vintage is my favourite of the three. 

It’s a really friendly welcome I get when I venture over the threshold of this cool space in Hackney that’s a vintage clothing shop by day and a venue by night. Shirts and jackets hang around the walls of the upstairs, fashion statements from a range of yesterday’s subcultures. A soundtrack blasts out reminders of female-fronted indie twee pop bands that I’d long since forgotten about but love all the same. (Mikabomb, The Primitives and Darling Buds anyone?).

I’m here to see Gazel. This British/Turkish songwriter and producer has seen her stock rising in these parts with the recent release of single, ‘You’re Not Funny’. It precedes an album release later this year. But before I see Gazel, in an odd turn of events wholly appropriate for a ‘vintage’ store, Sonic Breakfast meets her Mum. We chat briefly, before the support band take to the stage, about homelessness, architecture and proud parenting. Gazel’s Mum has every right to feel proud.

Gurl are the handpicked support travelling all the way from Bristol to do the honours. The four-piece huddle tightly in the limited space they have on stage whilst running through a set that touches lots of bases and bounces around genres. From souped-up trip hop they head into guitar rock solos before a cover of ‘It’s a Man’s World’ shows of their vocalist’s powerful and soulful range. At times, they veer into sounding a tad Rag ‘n’ Bone Man before calling on the ghost of Bowie’s early to mid 80’s output. As Gurl’s set draws to a close in funk-prog excess, I reflect how much I’ve enjoyed their show. I’d see them again for sure.

 

Gazel looks the part. With sparkly gold trousers, a mass of hair and round Lennon-glasses, she imitates a 1970’s folk singer who’s taking her first steps to embrace disco. Impressive video visuals behind her band tell an intriguing story as the venue’s heart of glass starts to slowly turn. 

This is high concept arty stuff always managing to remain on the right side of pompous. Gazel’s forthcoming album, Book Of Souls, takes us on a conscious/sub-conscious trip encountering a variety of souls who dwell within. An elderly widow sits in a desert obsessed with the fear of going outside (even though she is). The night concierge occupies that space in our lives between being awake and dreaming. And this one is all about the process of becoming a zen master. 

Whilst some of the ideas might not completely connect with this old cynic, the show remains fresh and engaging throughout. Standard dance beats give way to more middle Eastern rhythms. Belly dancing moves are exotically thrown into the mix before electronic drum pads are beaten and a violin stroked. As the lights dim, a mock gas lamp is lit; Gazel is an adventurer striding confidently into a hidden cave armed with a spell of spoken word prose.

Gazel gets us all to sit down during a slower number. I’m reminded just how ‘vintage’ these bones are as I attempt to cross my legs. There’s theatre oozing out of this set. I imagine it’s the sort of show that a young Kate Bush would have put on; in fact, it’s probably not far removed from a show that Kate Bush would put on now if she had an appetite for live performance. 

Always attracted to the drama within gigs, there was surely never any doubt that I’d enjoy the multi-media assault on the senses that’s frothing within a Gazel show. I’ll return to both act and venue before 2019 is done for sure.