Wovoka Gentle, Swimming Girls & Josiah & The Bonnevilles – Omeara – March 25th 2019

Show me a better and more solid live proposition in 2019 than Wovoka Gentle and I’ll be there with bells on. Let’s not beat around the bush here – Wovoka Gentle’s unique approach to live music-making is jaw-dropping; from splodges of sound and harnessed beats emerge the most beautiful of melodies; harmonic juice born out of the most intense of concentrates. This triumvirate astound with their innate electronic folk togetherness. Just see them should you get the chance.

Sonic Breakfast first became aware of their class after randomly walking past the stage they were playing on at the fine Nozstock festival. That’s been documented here previously in this blog. I’d pay to see Wovoka Gentle but their record label, Yucatan, has generously put on a lovely Monday night free show at Omeara. It’s another new London venue for me and it’s no-brainer to head along to the collection of railway arches just down from London Bridge.

Omeara is an ace venue. I’m none too sure where it starts and others begin. Once I’ve got my hand stamped and briefly look at the faux-dungeon crossed with music hall facility of the main venue, I wander through a series of connected rooms to see bars and street food spaces. A more upmarket version of a Budapest ruin bar, I sit eating pizza, drinking beer and waiting for the music to kick off.

 Josiah (from Josiah & The Bonnevilles) is tonight’s special guest. The crowd watch with interest despite his style bearing minimal resemblance for what will follow. He’s got a birthday coming up in the next few hours and gives quick nods to friends and family in the audience who’ll no doubt be celebrating with him. Catch him at the right angle and Josiah could be Brad Pitt’s shorter and younger brother. These tunes from Tennessee, mostly performed on acoustic guitar but with a brief piano break, are classic Americana. He’s Ryan Adams pre-disgrace. There’s a vibration to Josiah’s vocal not dissimilar to the one employed by Conor Oberst. My favourite tune of his that I hear draws influence from George Jones. “It’s about the saddest song on a record, the hidden-away one that you can’t stop listening to because you’re fucked up”, says Josiah.

 

The room gets really busy for Swimming Girls. It’s not surprising given that they’re flavour of the month in some quarters. I confess though that, on tonight’s showing, they pass me by a bit. And that’s despite having a guitar player with a Smiths lyric on his T-shirt. They’ve got a sound that’s not far removed from the excessive soft rock of the 1980’s. My notes suggest Starship or an ideal soundtrack to a recently unearthed, never-seen-before, John Hughes movie. Swimming Girls are fronted by Vanessa, a slinky, confident sort who clearly has good rapport with her crowd. When the rest of the band sit down and Vanessa plays a peeled-back number on her electric guitar, the influence of Cyndi Lauper’s True Colors comes right to the fore. There’s nothing wrong with Swimming Girls; they do what they do well and the kids love them. I guess their influences were never entirely my thing the first time around. There’s a slight exodus for Wovoka Gentle and the crowd demographic gets noticeably older.

 

Wovoka Gentle must surely be a sound technician’s nightmare. They bring trays of gadgets, cluttered desks of wires and mics onto stage with them pre-set. But with striking efficiency and organised calm, the three members find the right holes in which to plug things in. A violin is sound-checked. Six separate mics are given cursory attention. The three desks look inward; wires now flail across the stage; complicated neural pathways of the Wovoka Gentle brain.

The opening segment almost induces tears from this quarter. William strums an electric guitar and launches into the briefest of covers of 30 Century Man whilst Imogen and Ellie accompany with exquisite vocal harmony. “That’s our tribute to Scott Walker. He very much influenced us”, says William (or words to that effect).

As for the rest, the biggest big-up that I can give is that I make no more notes. This is a set of such variety and such pulsating beauty that I can do little more than stand transfixed. With the slightest of nods, Ellie lets Imogen know what William is thinking. It’s that sort of understanding that elevates this set beyond the norms. I think (though can’t be sure) that the beats are continuous and that the songs of highest quality merge into one. I recognise some but not all; there’s a new album out in June that’ll surely push the genius that is Wovoka Gentle further to the fore. I am dazzled again.

This is where it’s at.

Wovoka Gentle – Peculiar Form Of Sleep

I’m glad to see that Wovoka Gentle are slowly and gradually expanding their fan-base. One of the many perks of going to lots of summer festivals is that you ‘discover’ live acts that you quickly grow to love. You get home, clean out the mud from your tent and reflect on what you’ve seen.

Here’s an extract from my eFestivals review of Nozstock back in 2017 (full review here)..

Earlier in the day, I’ve accidentally stumbled across a new favourite band here though. Think of a folkier version of Caribou and you’d be in the right space for imagining Wovoka Gentle. A three piece, they all convene around an array of instruments in the centre of the stage. With electronic bleeps merging in with more traditional ‘folk’ instruments and their own sampled and looped voices, they produce a blissed-out psychedelia perfect for a Sunday afternoon. There are criminally few here to watch, perhaps because Wovoka Gentle are a name not widely known but I’d recommend checking them out with haste. I curse myself when wondering about what other delights I might have missed around Nozstock – though you can’t be everywhere.”

Given the new favourite band status, I’ve been disappointingly tardy in writing about them on Sonic Breakfast. A whole year has passed since Nozstock. 

A few weeks ago, a lovely PR agency informed me about a new Wovoka Gentle release. This song, 1,000 Opera Singers Working In Starbucks, was right up Sonic Breakfast’s street. It even had a sparkling video with mad animations. I listened, watched and loved. Diligently I added their name to my makeshift list of bands I really must feature. And didn’t. 

Last Friday news arrived of another new Wovoka Gentle tune, Peculiar Form Of Sleep. I was on my way to Benidorm for Visorfest and, in theory, I’d have time to piece some words together whilst sitting on the tram between Alicante and Benidorm. Instead, I watched as we hugged the coastline, passing pretty coves and stretches of beach less populated than the towns book-ending the tram ride.

Wovoka Gentle played London’s ICA a few nights ago. I wish I’d been there. As I’d witnessed back a-while, this trio of clever conjurers magically play with time signatures, traditional rhythms and folk melody to give the most compelling of shows. One wonders if they’re actually as laidback as they appear or if offstage they’re more highly strung. It feels right to write about Wovoka Gentle whenever the mood takes because that’s the ethic they seem to promote. Like a British version of Animal Collective, it’s fascinating to see how this tribe will develop. 

I might write about them again and it mightn’t take a year. They remain a favourite band.