THE BEGINNING

The first in a run of shows in an atmospheric setting curated by Lauren Laverne’s online platform The Pool.

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Gwenno @ Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, London, 1st August 2016

From the outset of her post-Pippettes solo career, Gwenno Saunders has been bold, and brave, and inventive. Thus she’s the perfect fit to headline this instalment of a series of equally bold shows under the ‘Wonder Women’ banner, staged at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse and next door in the Southbank’s open-air Globe Theatre. Day to day these are venues more used to the tread of thespian feet than the trill of an amplified synth. Tonight’s show alongside electro-pop gangs Pixx and Pumarosa is one of the highlights of this month-long event, curated by the ever-impressive Lauren Laverne and her online platform The Pool. The ‘Wonder Woman’ series sets out to showcase female artists, and does so brilliantly.

This evening, the gorgeous, tiny, wood-panelled room, usually used for theatre, is entirely lit by candlelight from antique chandeliers, which – amazingly – are lowered in between each set so that burnt-down candles can be replaced. When was the last time you went to a gig where what are effectively a squad of Dickensian lamplighters were also in attendance? At this place you can not only see the whites of the performers’ eyes, but those of your fellow audience members too. Sat as the attendees are slightly to the rear and left of the stage, we get a front-of-stage view of the show, the three tiers of the audience climbing above us towards the beautifully painted ceiling.

Gwenno’s songs are infused with as much character as the space she occupies tonight, each having an invisible yet tangible spirit of its own. And in this setting, her gently mesmerising, underwater melodies excel. ‘Calon Peiriant’ floats along unhurriedly, coolly, before segueing seamlessly into an almost post-rock-esque, apocalyptic string refrain at its climax. She is an artist unafraid of invention, nor of political statement. Of course her songs are sung entirely in the lyrical Welsh language (sometimes Cornish), but her vocals soar, conveying a deep visceral meaning even if most of her audience have no idea what is being sung.

While her stage presence is natural and effortless, Gwenno’s intelligence and personality is embodied in this performance. The music, in this confined space, floods and drains like a coastal tide, expertly crafted, unpretentious and completely enveloping. Late in the set, the exquisite subterranean electro-pop of ‘Fratolish Hiang Perpeshki’, with its hook-laden chorus, invades the senses. After set-closer ‘Amser’, Gwenno exits the stage to a standing ovation.

Earlier in the evening the perfectly poised, glossy synth-pop of Pixx and a rawer, more elemental set from Pumarosa, which had at times a thrilling, nervous energy, combined to complete the line-up for a night where three sets in two hours felt almost, but not quite, too short. But above all the ornate room brings with it a unique feeling to a very special event.

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