Sonic Breakfast Top Ten 2019 – Number Four – Sasha Siem – Fitzrovia Chapel

There aren’t so many gigs on in London this week. Perhaps that’ll give me time to complete this top ten of 2019 countdown by the weekend? I’m off to my first festival of 2020 then – the rather ace looking Rockaway Beach at Butlins in Bognor and I’ll need my head fully clear so that I can focus upon my eFestivals review of that. 

In at number four is the night I spent at the glorious Fitzrovia chapel with Sasha Siem back in February. It was a beautiful, exquisite night and I was still bright-eyed about all that London had to offer. Readers can remind themselves about that gig here

Sasha is part Norwegian and this gig was the first show of the year that I saw part-promoted by the fab team at Propeller records, the label specialising in Norwegian releases. I’ve seen some absolutely cracking shows put on by Norwegian acts in 2019 – and one of those shows features higher still in this top ten. 

In the second half of 2019, Sasha found higher profile by releasing a series of cover versions of ‘classics’. It’s a bold move to tackle such established numbers but one that marks a sense of Sasha’s growing confidence. Apparently, Elton John fully endorses her cover of ‘Your Song’. 

Sasha has a new album coming out later in January. I’ll be listening in to see what direction this intelligent talent takes next. I’m sure it won’t be an obvious route.

 

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.

 

Sasha Siem – Most Of The Boys

Most of the boys were experiments‘ states Anglo-Norwegian artist Sasha Siem in the very first line of her stunning debut album. It’s a strident, opening line and I’m not sure I can think of a better way to summarise ambition and intent.

Not quite into February and I’ve already been alerted to at least two artists who are exciting me more than 2014 ever did. Sasha is one of these. Short lyrical spits of songs which all make a stunning, haunting point. ‘There’s proof on the roof of my mouth‘, she rhymes outlandishly.

Immersed in clever, middle-class, classical stuff, it would appear that her lot has been about opportunity; playing cello at London’s Guildhall, studying at Cambridge and Harvard, all followed up with commissions from Philarmonic and Chamber orchestras. It’s easy to be sniffy about such privilege, especially for those of us who prefer our pop stars to come from the ghetto. But, doing so will deny you the chance to hear something special this Saturday.

It’s a brief album – 12 tracks clocking in at little more than half an hour. Any self respecting music critic is left wanting more. And yet within, there is so much theatrical wordplay and charmed deviance that it’s tough not to fall. Hook, line and sinker, she’s got me with her ‘entangled relationships and binding attachments’, all served up amidst classical, strange, stringed arrangement.

Recent single, So Polite, is worthy of your full attention. It’s very specially angry. If there’s a better mention of Facebook in popular music I’m yet to discover it. It doesn’t end in obvious places . The final ,orchestrated 30 seconds are a joy. Sasha herself says that this is “a rage against fakery, against fear, against hiding the truth and the isolation that can come when community and true care between people is missing.”

One cannot say fairer than that…