Before we get to the matter at hand let me point out my favourite aspect of Junction 2. It has love seats. You know what I mean? Those seats they used to have in cinemas that have room for two people that enable a couple to get in a “clinch” as my dad would say. Loved it. Coincidentally, this romantic setting is also the perfect environment for alternative chamber folk sextet Wooden Arms (who I suspect are named for the Patrick Wilson album of the same name) to launch their rather wonderful debut album Tide.
One thing that is remarkable about the evening is the sheer quality of the two support acts. First up is Northern Irish composer/songwriter Laura McGarrigle. Under the moniker Gaze is Ghost and with just a piano as accompaniment, she treats the crowd to a jazz/folk amalgam that’s akin to a more seductive Tori Amos, a more adult Joanna Newsom, or a less damaged Fiona Apple.
With the unenviable task of following Gaze is Ghost, is Cambridge’s own multi instrumentalist, composer, producer and songwriter Tom Adams. His set is comprised of entirely newly composed material and strikes a balance between the electronic noodling of Thom Yorke’s solo efforts with the earnest singer/songwriter directions of Jeff Buckley. The results are quite extraordinary. Using an array of effects pedals that elude this reviewer’s ken, Adams creates a fully realised and engrossing environment for his gently strummed guitar songs to explore and reside within.
Of course tonight is truly all about Norwich’s Wooden Arms. Their debut album Tide, released on the 6th October in the UK via Butterfly Collectors, quite accidentally fell into my lap recently on a friend’s recommendation and has been on steady rotation ever since. The nature of the live performance brings the band’s already wonderful pieces to life in a way that is quite surprising. Take “Separate The Verb” for instance. On record it is a dainty tongue in cheek indie folk song. In the live setting its playfulness is emphasised; its endearing humour given an extra dimension by the aesthetic of the band’s note perfect interplay.
Album opener “December” is another track that benefits from live performance. For this delicate song bandleader and pianist Alex Carson temporarily cedes lead vocalist duties to guitarist Jeff Smith. Smith’s precise and, quite frankly, unique voice fills the room ably, but is paradoxically restrained and vulnerable. “Tide”, the title track of the record, sounds like a piece composed for a ballet. The violin oscillates and flows as the song negotiates it’s path to it’s conclusion just as a river surmounts obstacles to reach the sea. Smith returns to lead vocalist duties for the beautiful, low key and gentle ode to true love “False Start”, his voice so evocative that I wish he sang more regularly.
Set closer, and new song, “Burial” displays a new side to Wooden Arms. At first the song seems to sit squarely within the band’s oeuvre, but climaxes in a group vocal that approaches a cathartic shout. Quite shocking considering what had preceded it, but an interesting and enticing indication of what may lie ahead for the group. Whatever direction the band heads, on tonight’s evidence, it is bound to bear fruit.