Felt Mountain Live – Birmingham Symphony Hall – April 13th, 2022.
Goldfrapp are an enigma. Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory have been working together for over twenty years and have produced seven albums and a host of other releases including live albums, singles, and compilations.
I first saw Goldfrapp in London at Union Chapel, Islington, London in 2000. They were performing and promoting their debut album, Felt Mountain. The concert was spellbinding. Union Chapel is a working church constructed in the Gothic revival style of the late 19th century with pews and stained-glass windows. A perfect environment for the band’s music.
The band announced a 20th Anniversary tour in commemoration of their debut album, in 2020. I was excited at the prospect of hearing the group perform songs I had seen them perform twenty years ago. However, the tour was cancelled twice due to the COVID pandemic. The tickets stayed in their place on the door of the fridge for two years, until finally the announcement was made that the tour would be happening in March and April 2022.
My tickets were for the show at Birmingham Symphony Hall, which is a modern, purpose-built venue in the city centre. Being a symphony hall, the venue is suited to classical concerts, but was a perfect setting for Goldfrapp’s intimate music with exquisite acoustics and generous seating that afforded great views of the stage.
After enduring 40 minutes from support band Salt & Ashes, the house lights dimmed and the band entered the stage, followed by Alison Goldfrapp, herself. The hitherto restrained excitement burst over the dam of everyone’s anticipation to rapturous applause for the singer of so many songs we all love.
The band consisted of a string quartet, keyboard player, drummer, bassist, and guitarist, with Alison Goldfrapp out front, centre stage. On previous encounters seeing Goldfrapp live, I had spotted Will Gregory lurking at the mixing desk, however, on this occasion he was not to be seen.
The first song was the title track of the album. It begins with an introduction that is evocative of Swiss mountains with singing that sounds like yodelling, without entering pastiche. The song builds with sung melodies, but no words. The band performed the song with great attention to all the details we “repeated-listeners” know. The sounds used on the track, from Alison’s whistling to cranky old pianos and psychedelic synthesizer swirls were presented faithfully, while I marvelled at the difficulty of faithfully reproducing such uniquely combined sounds twenty-two years later. The band hasn’t played many of the Felt Mountain songs in the intervening years, and I expect the preparation for the tour was rather challenging, but the arrangements and musicianship were excellent.
As the band played song after song from the album, I was mesmerised. Alison’s singing in remarkable, from whispered intimacy and tenderness to powerful operatic high notes, often put through a synthesizer to add an intriguing and compelling edge. She was faultless on stage, an artist of depth and emotionality if ever there was one.
The inclusion of a string quartet enabled to band to perform with a richness that is not achievable using machines. The textures they added were like large brush strokes on a canvas; silky, resonant, full of colour and unmistakeably from the pen of Will Gregory.
After playing Paper Bag, Pilots, Deer Stop and the brilliant Human, the focus shifted to songs from other albums, featuring pieces from Black Cherry, Supernature, Seventh Tree and Silver Eye. These songs created a stylistic continuity that never strayed outside of the ambience of the evening. The choice of songs worked extremely well in maintaining the flow and development of the concert.
They finished the set with two more Felt Mountain songs, the timeless Utopia and Lovely Head, the first track on the album, which features more whistling and a 1960’s John Barry vibe complete with harpsichord. My only regret is that they didn’t include any songs from the Tales of Us album, but I did see them perform the whole album on the lawn outside the Old Navel College in Greenwich, London in 2014, so I can forgive them for the omission.
They returned to the stage for an encore and quicken the pace with Anymore, a track from the Siler Eye album. A simple repeating three note riff over a bass drum heavy groove got everyone up on their feet. This was followed by Ride a White Horse and Strict Machine. Two of their biggest hits, the pounding electro backing is a perfect foil to the trance- like vocal repetition in the songs. Goldfrapp have managed to maintain their identity no matter the genre they are working in. From cinematic, atmospheric chanson to full on electro-disco anthems, their output remains identifiably their own, taking influence from many but remaining an evolving and inspiring creative force. As the concert finished, we all left the hall to the off-kilter cabaret tones of Oompa Radar, one of my favourite tracks from Felt Mountain, and a fitting end to a great night.
Road to Somewhere
Moon in Your Mouth
You Never Know
Ride a White Horse
Tape – Oompa Radar
This concert reflects many of the ideas that I relate to my own concept of home. Familiarity, dependability, warmth, love. The feeling of knowing something intimately and being comfortable, despite the changes that occur over time.
The lighting for the concert was so effective, never overshadowing the dynamics of the music, always complimenting the atmosphere of the songs. I loved the floor lights and the changing backdrop of colours, movement, and drama. I found it such an inspiring experience, especially because my upcoming Graduation Show exhibit involves several lighting challenges. The exquisite simplicity of the music and the performance was a truly inspiring example of the philosophical truism that less equals more. A perfect lesson and an experience I would repeat in a heartbeat.