Live Review: Rachael Dadd + Marcus Hamblett at The Lexington, Islington

Rachael Dadd has been touring in support of Flux, released November 2019. It’s a beautiful set of songs; a rolling boil of lilting tunes and folk-influenced sounds that often plays with time sequences and lives on the outskirts of jazz. It came as no surprise that she has friendships with Kate Stables (This Is The Kit) and Rozi Plain, who both contribute vocals to Flux, as they all share the same delightfully askew pastoral take on life and use lyrics to weave stories and play with language in a very intoxicating way.

Tonight’s support act, Marcus Hamblett is also the producer of Flux and a member of the touring band. His understated introduction to the solo guitar piece ‘The Warren’ is contrary to his playing which showed his dexterity in using chords as a spring board to leap off and allow his fingers to quicksilver up and down the neck with occasional stops to give us the essence of a chord before flying off. This opening track cast a spell on the audience that dialled the chatty down to a hushed silence. For the remainder of the set he was joined by the rest of the band. We were treated to the Parisian feel of ‘Three Four’ with its laconic mood and almost spy-themed construction. ‘Magali’ celebrated the clown Grimaldi and came with a café-waft of coffee and pastis but was also bitter-sweet having been recorded after the death of its composer Steve Aston.  The closing number was the more up-tempo ‘Lost at Sea’ which had a cinematic, chase-scene feel and, for me, was the stand out song of Marcus’ set.

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Rachael Dadd seemed genuinely touched to have packed out the Lexington and, given she has been releasing striking music for well over 10 years, it’s a well-earned reward. Tonight’s Lexington set draws almost completely from Flux and with only ‘I Am Your Home’ and ‘Good Good Light’ from previous releases Bite the Mountain and We Resonate. Along with polymath Marcus Hamblett she is joined by Emma Gatrill – clarinet/keyboards, Rob Pemberton – drums, Alex Heane – bass and Alabaster dePlume (the excellent moniker of another polymath: Angus Fairbairn) on saxophone. Rachael Dadd’s music could fool you into thinking it would work around a campfire but not survive being pumped through a PA but from the opening bars of ‘Two Islands’ I am transported through the looking glass and into a world of allusion and dreams; a place of optimism where harmony and wonder are the currency. Despite the songs on Flux being “…a response to external and internal tides: the flow of life up-rooted; a protest against the flow of recent political history and a diary of the flow within the intimate space of home” there is often a sense of calm in the music; like it is attempting to understand rather than just judge the world.

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Each song gives takes us to another location in Dadd’s Wonderland from the “matter” and “sinew” of life referenced in ‘Arrows’, the half-stomp, half-swirl of “knowledge flow” in ‘Beacon’ or the song about her “always in the moment” children ‘Two Coiled Springs’ (a great descriptor of kids if ever I heard one). And like an archipelago the songs change shape and offer up different musical landscapes. Songs like ‘Connected to the Rock’ started off like a folk track with tinkling banjo but built up layers of drums and keyboards to a plateau of swelling saxophone and clarinet. ‘Cut My Roots’ had an almost Lindy Hop bounce to it, ‘Knot’ felt like a drift downstream on a summer’s day, ‘Super Moon Machine’ had a compelling mechanical urgency and ‘Palaeontologist’ was a jerky jazz-march of lush chords that reminded me of Royal Scam-era Steely Dan. The last song of the set is the rolling-wistfulness of ‘Animal’ but the audience demanded more and we are rewarded with ‘Good Good Light’ to send us off lullabied into the night.

Rachael Dadd’s music is a breath of fresh air and whereas some artists seem connected to the city, Dadd seems connected to the natural world. And tonight she was fecund with fine songs and an impeccable set of musicians who didn’t just share the stage but also seemed to have taken a break from Wonderland to come and entertain us all.

Review and Photography by Paul F Cook

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