Serafina Steer – St Leonard’s Church, Shoreditch, London, January 24 2013
Last Thursday night, I did something I never thought I’d be doing again; I went to church. No, I haven’t had any sudden spiritual conversion.
I did ‘see the light’, but the lights in question were the red, blue and green stage lights illuminating Serafina Steer, launching her album with a sold-out gig in St Leonard’s Church, Shoreditch.
The venue, it seems, was chosen for its acoustics, which were quite simply stunning. From the moment she took to her harp, her music reached ethereal, unearthly heights that far surpassed the sound of the album she was launching, The Moths are Real, (already a fascinating record in itself). Although in my review of the album I criticised the harp for occasionally fading into background music, I feel I have to totally take back that comment after the sweep she played to open her second song, ‘Alien Invasion’ took my breath away. Even when she made mistakes, as when she had to restart the song ‘Skinny Dipping’, the sounds that came from her harp were nothing less than enthralling.
However, there was more to this gig than just the beautiful harp. The show really got into its swing when she began to play with other musicians, ranging to the aptly sublime (she was accompanied by a string quartet, organ and at one point a gong) to the ridiculous (Jarvis Cocker playing a giant machine that made the sound of wind during ‘Night Before Mutiny’ may be even more of a surreal moment than the time he dueted with Ali G live on TV). This is clearly a woman who loves to work with other musicians.
Where she often looked uneasy talking to the audience, explaining that she ‘doesn’t really hate Brick Lane’ or worrying that performing at a church would make her look ‘a bit Cliff Richard’, when playing she seemed comfortable. In this way, I was reminded of Kate Bush, who famously hasn’t performed live in 30 years, and who, during playing title track ‘The Moths are Real’, Steer seemed to be channelling – really bringing out the elements of ‘The Ninth Wave’ present in the song. Let’s hope, however, that unlike Bush Steer keeps touring, as this was a show that at once felt intimate and stratospheric.
Despite the fantastic acoustics making ‘Disco Compilation’ sound a little tinny (a great shame as it’s by far the highlight of the album and perhaps eventually of 2013), there was rarely a misstep through the entire show, right up to the impromptu, unrehearsed encore of ‘How to Haunt a House Party’ from her previous album. If church was like this every week, I’d definitely be a convert.