Little Bear closes Other Voices Festival day three at Wilton’s Music Hall
Surely the year’s hippest festival so far, Other Voices gathered the cream of the folk, low-fi, cooler-than-thou crop, with Sunday evening seeing Imelda May, SOAK, Mathew E White and Little Bear end the weekend in style.
The latter had top billing at Wilton’s Music Hall on Cable Street, with a wonderful performance that drifted coolly through a collection of songs from their forthcoming debut album and culminated in the recently released I’d Let You Win.
The Derry band blended straight folk vocals and strummed acoustic guitar with Conor Mason’s haunting piano, tinkling in a way that, at times, recalled Neil Young. But their sound is much closer to home, seeming to ooze from the past of these isles. One can’t help but be reminded of East London’s long history of Irish immigrants, with a feeling of being almost transported back in time to when this great venue first thrived.
The old hall has a magnificently ghostly mood, chosen presumably to match the character of the now famous St James Church in Dingle (the small fishing town on the Atlantic Coast of Ireland that has hosted the festival exclusively until this year). The London venue’s capacity is bigger, but the crowd is attentive, polite and strangely intense, all here to listen to some soulful, heart-felt music – and none of the bands disappointed them.
Before Little Bear, Mathew E White treated the audience to a generous portion of his bluesy, funk-tinged and instantly catchy pop. After his first song, the American songwriter suggested his listeners “shouldn’t be afraid to dance a bit” and when he kicked into the irresistible sing-a-long Big Love, it seemed there were a fair few who had been waiting for just this kind of invitation.
SOAK, the 16-year-old Irish singer-songwriter, has a much sparser sound and although she didn’t seem overwhelmed by the event, her songs did occasionally blend into one long stream of fingerpicking and strained vocal melodies.
Perhaps it would have been fairer to her if she hadn’t been asked to follow Imelda May on the bill. The Dublin singer’s band fused Chuck Berry rock ‘n’ roll guitar, surf rock and big band swing jazz, with May’s delivery being by far the most energetic and gutsy of the night (if perhaps the least moving).
Photos: Richard Gilligan