Hilary Woods at St. Pancras Old Church, London, 11 June 2018

The tiny congregation begin to gather in to the small but beautiful St. Pancras Old Church on the outskirts of Camden just before 8:30pm. It isn’t long before every seat is taken and opener Ben Vince gives us some clues as to how different this night will be.

Barely a word is spoken, from anyone, all night. It feels more like a listening party, Vince takes to the stage with a saxaphone, a Mac and some sort of MPC sampler. He chops and loops alternating sax parts, only reaching for the microphone for his final song, which is layered with so many effects it is difficult to distinguish from the layers of saxaphone lines that preceded it.

An interesting prospect, but tonight is all about Hilary Woods. She has just released her debut album ‘Colt’ on the brilliant Sacred Bones label. Thousands of artists would have waited until winter to release something as cold and bleak as the 8 beautiful songs on Colt, but Hilary Woods isn’t like other artists. She has honed this sound patiently over many years and for the most part tonight she is sat unaccompanied on a piano keyboard with a single microphone. Her vocals alternate between hushed and falsetto, touches of both Enya and the late Dolores O’ Riordain.

She opens with Limbs, Inhaler, an early indicator of the strength of the compositions on show tonight. We pretty much get a full run through the album. Jesus Said sounds particularly spiritual in our Lord’s own house, as does new single Prodigal Dog with lines such as  “At the Altar, from where you’ve strayed, I was worshipping, Some kind of maiden flame”. We all felt that tonight. Abstract moving visuals are splashed on the church walls behind her, making it twice as difficult not to get lost in the haze of the flame.

Those of us listening a couple of years now are delighted to hear one of her first solo efforts,Sabbath from her debut EP ‘Heartbox’ (2016).  Woods is a wonderfully tasteful pianist, knowing when to hammer hard on the keys, when to sustain notes, and when to dip out altogther. From the lush but dystopian sounding synth lines to the really restrained use of beats, she only plays where required.

Woods does pick up an electric guitar a couple of times and is joined on stage by Rob Farhat playing drone viola for a couple of songs, but he is almost surplus to requirements such is the command Woods has over the intimate audience, people are now standing at the back of the church as there are no more seats. She speaks only once, just before her final song, and it is to thank us and inform us that she has been incredibly nervous throughout the show.  If she made any mistakes, we couldn’t tell.

In association with The Irish Jam.

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