Words by Katherine Priddy / Pics by Lucy Heath
Alessi is a name I’ve caught floating around the folk circuit for a while now, overheard in fervent discussions at the Moseley Folk Festival and cropping up in conversation at various gigs. But up until now I’ve not listened to her much myself.
So with both quiet optimism and slight trepidation I abandon the first warm evening of the year, to watch Alessi and her ‘Ark’ of musicians at the Hare & Hounds in Kings Heath – on the last date of her UK tour showcasing her new album, ‘The Still Life’. This had better be good.
Arriving at 7:14pm I’m surprised and encouraged to see a queue already forming up the stairs; a line of claret chinos and chunky-knit sweaters. It seems Alessi’s music appeals to the arty/student crowd, and having a more traditional taste myself I wonder whether this is going to be my cup of tea.
We settle into the smaller room of the two; the late sun shines in, people flick through books and magazines, and I relax into the atmosphere. There’s a quiet rumble of anticipation in the room as Canon Street, two sisters from Moseley, lull us with folk harmonies – before the mood becomes noticeably livelier as Ralfe Band, the second support, challenge anyone to resist a foot-tap with their stomping rhythm.
Then, somewhat breaking traditional gig convention, Alessi joins Ralfe Band on stage – singing the lyrics from torn scraps of paper. And whether it’s the wine or home made charm, I find myself getting caught up in anticipation.
Eventually both Alessi and Ark, a drummer and bass guitarist, emerge to loud applause – going straight into ‘Sans Balance’, a track form her latest album. It takes me a moment, but I realise her lyrics are flowing easily between French and English; something I find both unexpected and intriguing.
Alessi is quiet and faltering, although with a quirkiness I find at first disconcerting. Her songs are a strange but satisfying blend of heavy drums, drifting synths and her quiet, unassuming voice.
I find myself momentarily bewildered by the sudden, rather abrupt endings of the songs. But as she moves through the dreamy vocals and gentle rhythms of ‘Veins Are Blue’ and ‘Big Dipper’, again new tracks from ‘The Still Life’ her unassuming posture and shy attitude create a strangely hypnotising and soothing effect.
However I’m still not completely convinced, perhaps thrown by her quirky delivery and less than conventional stage presence, until she performs a cover of ‘Afraid of Everyone’ by The National. The clever looping of vocals and electric drums create something suddenly darker and sexier. Now I’m sold.
Her crowd interaction is charming and amusing, as Alessi introduces her song ‘Run’ whilst joking “that’s my advice to you”. Even nearly dropping her bass guitar only serves to endear me further. And I can’t help but notice that her guitar matches her tights – ‘my kind of woman’, I write.
The final two songs of the set, ‘Honey’ and ‘The Rain’, are short and sweet, and as she invites the audience to join in I’m smiling and singing along.
The encore consists of two more songs, one of them being ‘Whatever Makes you Happy’, and by now I challenge anyone not to be affected by her infectious glee. And as she leaves the stage, members of the audience stand up and give her a hug. I get a sense of real humility.
What I first saw as a shy and strange delivery I now see is part of Alessi’s simple, quirky charm.
And as we finally spill out onto the street, and despite the ebb of late evening heat, I feel honestly happier than when I first walked in.
For more on Alessi’s Ark, including full tour dates and digital downloads of ‘This Still Life’, visit http://www.alessisark.com/
For further gig listings at the Hare & Hounds, visit http://hareandhoundskingsheath.co.uk/event-listings