“Without MSG I Am Nothing”, once proclaimed Welsh, post-hardcore noiseniks, Mclusky. They may have been speaking of the Michael Schenker Group or monosodium glutamate, but I like to think it was a dedication to Miranda Sex Garden.
MSG are hard to pigeonhole. Originally the omnipresent Katharine Blake, along with Kelly McCusker and Jocelyn West, formed a madrigal trio, which blossomed into a delightfully expansive vision, drinking in elements of gothic rock, folk music and dark wave, amongst other genres too numerous to mention. Their last album was released in 2000 and witnessing their triumphant live return last summer to a sold out gathering at The 100 Club, after a 22 year hiatus, was an ethereal experience and a gig unlike most: in fact it felt more like a life-affirming event.
Tonight is the first date of a small splurge of UK shows – although an overly corporate and soulless venue in the middle of a shopping centre, with unhelpful and argumentative male security personnel who refuse to allow a long-term friend of the band who’s on the guest list into the venue with his camera, doesn’t feel like the best choice. As support act, Kristeen Young, queries, “Who is O2, and why do they own everything?”. Nevertheless, Kristeen puts on a dynamic solo performance, flitting between hammering out energised piano pieces and electrified stage-prowling theatrics. Early Kate Bush springs to mind, with the edginess of Amanda Palmer and the humour of Laurie Black thrown in for good measure.
On to the main event and some have travelled from afar to be here. Opening song “The Wooden Boat” has MSG moving in unison like a coming storm to whip the crowd up into a shamanic frenzy, before Katharine shimmies onstage like a ghostly Hammer horror vixen. Barefooted and resplendent in a white chiffon dress with lightly backcombed blonde locks, she emits both a sultry seductive power and a sweet purity, as she plays a child’s recorder and somehow makes it not sound like a shrill instrument of torture. This is swiftly followed by “All There Is” where Bev Lee Harling’s violin races ahead and duels with Kavus Torabi’s rugged guitar work, as they shoot smiles and sparks.
I saw drummer, Trevor Sharpe, perform many times in Deadcuts. His hair has grown considerably longer since then and he appears unaged since the band photo that gazes from the inner sleeve album artwork of MSG’s Fairytales Of Slavery. His skilful playing creates a tribal rhythm to many of the songs and flirts with a jazzy style on others. Meanwhile, Teresa Casella’s Rickenbacker bass drives the songs and possesses a throbbing, primal heartbeat. Former Cardiacs guitarist, Torabi’s playing throughout is masterful and doesn’t overwhelm the band dynamic, yet is noticeably gnarly in places.
There’s a cinematic feel that ghosts many of the songs aired this evening. “Wheel” sounds as if it wouldn’t be out of place on a Disney film soundtrack, as Katharine looks wide-eyed into the audience, singing with a childlike innocence. The end of the song comes all too soon as it wraps the audience in a sonic hug while bottles of refreshments on stage visibly vibrate. Katharine disappears from the stage as the band perform the Celtic-flavoured and delightfully-titled instrumental, “Escape From Kilburn”, before returning wearing a saucy red leather mini dress. She looks perfectly cast as the femme fatale club singer who leads her victim to a watery grave in the monochrome private eye film noir that unfolds in my mind’s eye during “Tonight”.
The vast majority of the band’s set is culled from that final album, Carnival Of Souls, but there’s a healthy smattering from Fairytales Of Slavery – the album that apparently soothed Courtney Love’s grief as she listened to it on repeat after her husband died.
The final song of the main set, “Cut”, is a juggernaut of a track, racing and swerving with a pulsating Cure-like bassline, leaving the carnage of snapped violin bow strings in its wake.
There is the briefest of breaks before the epic “A Fairytale About Slavery” and, despite its singular verse and repetitive question, “When did you realise that you’d never be free?”, it’s quite possibly my favourite MSG composition. During the final song of the night, “Are You The One?”, Katharine lunges forth, kitten-heeled foot on monitor, screeching at the enthralled audience to, “Tell me are you for real?”. Her stage presence throughout the evening is engaging and playful with a vocal performance that could have been sent from the heavens.
Setlist: Wooden Boat / All There Is / Broken Glass / Wheel / Sleeping Beauty / Ever & Ever / Without Trace / Escape From Kilburn / Tonight / Peep Show / Blue Light / Velventine / Cut // A Fairytale About Slavery / Are You The One?
Miranda Sex Garden play the last date of their tour on 7th October @ The Piper, St Leonards-on-Sea – tickets available here. Discover their music and follow them on their socials:
Spotify / Bandcamp / Facebook / Instagram
14th Oct @ The King Arthur, Glastonbury / 19th Oct @ The Dublin Castle, London (with special guest David Ryder Prangley) / 18th Nov @ Witchfest, Fairfield Halls, Croydon
Katharine will also be touring with Mediaeval Baebes throughout December 2023, commencing on: 4th Dec @ St Martin in the Bull Ring, Birmingham / 6th @ All Saints’ Church, Isle of Wight / 7th @ Truro Cathedral, Truro, Cornwall / 8th @ St John the Baptist’s Church, Glastonbury / 9th @ Exeter Cathedral, Exeter / 10th @ St Nicholas’ Chapel, Kings Lynn, Norfolk / 11th @ The Cathedral Church of St Nicholas, Newcastle upon Tyne / 12th @ The Stables, Milton Keynes / 15th @ Stoke Minster, Stoke-on-Trent / 16th @ Church of St John Baptist, Cirencester, Gloucestershire / 17th @ St Mary’s Art Centre, Sandwich, Kent / 18th @ St Mary’s Church, Horsham, West Sussex / 19th @ Colchester Arts Centre, Colchester, Essex / 20th & 21st Dec @ Winter Solstice Celebration, Heath Street Baptist Church, Hampstead, London