We’re pretty sure Andrew Weatherall wouldn’t countenance the comparison, but at the climax of his new label’s showcase in the hallowed surroundings of The House of St Barnabas’ chapel the similarity is just too obvious to ignore.
Hovering above the musicians of Echowood as they delicately tease the last vestiges of 17th Century traditional English folk from their instruments hangs the iconic figure of Jesus Christ nailed to the cross. It’s unnervingly emblematic. Because for the 75 or so fortunate patrons who have come to pay homage to Weatherall’s latest venture in a gloriously haphazard trek through the outer reaches of the music business – his seven-inch only label, Moine Dubh – the erstwhile Lord Sabre has something approaching Christ-like status.
Think about it. Who else could have persuaded the notoriously fickle music fans of London town, and beyond, to venture into Soho on a Saturday for an evening of music none of them would have heard before? Weatherall’s disciples might be pushing the language of hyperbole a smidge, but there’s certainly something of the Pied Piper about the man behind such disparate entities as the acid house bible, the Boy’s Own fanzine, Primal Scream’s Loaded, the Sabres of Paradise, Two Lone Swordsman and much, much more.
As such, and given the respect he commands, it’s always worth tuning in when Weatherall puts his name to something. Tonight – the first event in The House of St Barnabas’ State of Independents series – is no different. Granted, the notion of an untapped fertile sonic spring in the hitherto unremarkable south east London suburb of Crystal Palace (where the artists of Moine Dubh originate) seems fanciful, but the doubting Thomases soon know better.
First up is Barry Woolnough. He might resemble Guy Garvey’s scruffier elder brother, but from the moment he opens his mouth to commence his voodoo howl, it’s clear this is no dreary, Elbow-like, dirge. Woolnough sings one song – backed by Fireflies – and it’s a belter. A lover’s lament for his late wife (the venue again proving apt), it’s a song of rare emotional heft. Reminiscent of deep southern soul – a bit Dr John here, a touch James Luther Dickinson there – it’s a stunning and clearly moving, not least for Woolnough, opening.
Fireflies – Nina Walsh, Dani Cali and Franck Alba – remain in situ after Woolnough takes his leave. The trio keep things firmly placed at the dark end of the street with their brooding electronic blues. When Moine Dubh’s poet-in-residence Joe Duggan joins them the hypnotic vibes get even more cinematic. His first poem recounts the tragic tale of Jose Matada, an African stowaway from Mozambique who fell to his death from a plane over Mortlake in 2012. His second crepuscular offering summons Leonard Cohen over music as evocative as anything Portishead have created.
Proceedings get more beguiling still when Alan Maclean takes to the stage. A charismatic character with more than a whiff of Johnny Cash (albeit in Adidas trainers) about him, Maclean takes us on an acoustic tour of his colourful life. The devil is invoked (and blamed when he almost takes a stumble off the chair he’s perched on) and redemption is found among the Bedouin tribes close to Mount Sinai.
After Cali returns for some mesmerising soulful folk rock, Lowroad delve further into the past for some otherworldly Celtic freak folk. The beautiful voice of Jessica Cahill is a revelation. Coming on like Linda Thompson, she guides her fellow players into exquisite nooks and crannies.
It’s left to Echowood – a Crystal Palace supergroup of sorts – to round things off. Led by the ghostly voice of Nina Walsh they sing of 15th Century witch trials in Suffolk and symbolically muster up our sea-faring island race. Penny whistles take the place of drum machines, but to the side of the stage Weatherall, like the rest of the audience, is enraptured. It’s a special end to a special night.
Where the artists of Moine Dubh go from here is anyone’s guess, but it certainly promises to be a fascinating journey. Hitch a ride.