Inside the warmth of an intimate ex-music hall nestled in the heart of the old West End of Morecambe, built by the Victorians as a glorious seaside dream, which is only just recovering from decades of Tory neglect, there is a seed of beauty growing in front of our grateful ears and eyes. Moulettes provide the perfect catalyst for this revival. Part community hall, part arts venue, More Music has been providing a service for the local community for 30 years, providing a much needed space for education and entertainment for locals. This isn’t the first time Moulettes, in their many guises, have played here, but tonight is the first time I have witnessed them, supported ably by guitarist Lee Westwood, whose instrumental songs were both virtuosic and poetic. I don’t consider myself to be an expert in solo acoustic guitar playing but in parts it reminded me of the Steve Hackett/Steve Howe solo pieces, with hints of classical, folk and jazz all beautifully played by a master of his art.
Moulettes have been around in some form or other since 2002, formed and steered by singer/cellist Hannah Miller (currently operating under the name Hannah Moule) and drummer/guitarist Oliver Austin, combining elements of folk, classsical and jazz to make something truly unique. Various releases over the years culminated in 2017’s brilliant “Preternatural” album, which defies categorisation but which layers cleverly crafted harmonies over progressive arrangements to make an astonishing concept about the diversity of the natural world.
Since 2018 the band have been concentrating on the follow up, an extremely ambitious project called “Xenolalia” (which roughly translates as speaking in tongues), a concept album about communication, for which they have attempted to present all 11 songs using 5 different ensembles – electric, strings, horns, a capella and electronic, to provide sometimes radically different versions. Tonight is an “acoustic” show featuring violins and cello, piano and keys, electric guitar and drums, and is mostly concentrated on the new material. I have set myself an arduous task to attempt to describe what the band sound like because together there is something quite unique going on, each individual element fusing to make a new world. There are traces of Bjork and Kate Bush, hints of Carla Bley and Robert Wyatt, The Art Bears and Lotte Lenya. Hannah‘s lengthy analogy about music being like gravy is as good a description as any, with something complex, solid and lasting in the base notes, the stocky miso in the mids, and the piquant notes of lemon and capers at the top.
There is some exceptional musicianship going on in this band, not least from the cello of Hannah herself, but the voice above all is where they excel. Remarkable really when you consider Hannah is singing at the same time as playing, but if you take the delightful swoops on a song like “Picture//Frame”, which sounds like “Never For Ever” period Kate Bush, coupled with the husky lowness of late period Joni Mitchell, then you know you’re in exalted company, and not many people can tackle Sandy Denny‘s “Who Knows Where The Time Goes” and make it sound so bloody good. From the sublime subtleties of “Words” and “Attention”, to the whoops and screams of “Lady Vengeance”, Hannah and the band lure us spellbound into their constellations of dust and prehistoric monsters, ending with the classic “Behemoth”, which I suppose is their “Aqualung”, given its epic dramatic rock stylings!
If you get the chance to go and see this band then grab it with both hands. I hear tell they are playing a concert next year at the Minack theatre in Cornwall, which would be rather special. In the meantime I would recommend you acquaint yourself with all things Moulette.
Pics by Ali Blair