Despite being relatively young, I am increasingly becoming comforted by the, shall we call, “gentler” side of life. Cycling on my way to see a Bella Union signed folk singer-songstress, Cowley Road was preparing itself for the Oxford Brookes student-led herpes-hurricane known as Fuzzy Ducks. Firstly, I am no snob. I went to Brookes, I went to Fuzzy Ducks and had a great time at both. But something struck me as I cycled past on this particular Wednesday; one, I am way too old for that shit, and two, as an outsider it all looks horrifically uncouth and uncivilised. Was I really like that? I never went for the tight-white and neon face-paint look myself, but I was most definitely part of that braying rabble of dressed up, chanting drunkards. Exiting Cowley, crossing the Magdalen Bridge and eventually reaching Jericho, I sighed with the relief that there was not one Fuzzy Duck in sight.
Alessi Laurent-Marke, otherwise known as Alessi’s Ark, was exactly what I was hankering for on that semi-traumatising cycle into town; woozy folk music, delivered by a captivating front woman with a beautifully soothing voice. On her new album, Time Travel, Alessi manages to cram twelve songs into under half-an-hour and makes a real claim for proclaiming that brevity is ‘the new black since sliced bread’. Or words to that effect. However, judging by her on-stage persona, Alessi couldn’t outstay her welcome if she turned up at a summer BBQ, ate all your burgers, drank all your beers and hung around until wintertime.
Supporting Alessi’s Ark was an idiosyncratic solo performance from Newcastle Upon Tyne singer Georgia Seddon. Sitting alone at her keyboard, the performance swung between Joanna Newsom/Regina Spektor style intrigue and ‘come and sit at the piano and sing your old nana a song, dear Georgia, it is Christmas Day after all’, more often than not falling on the side of the latter.
When Alessi and her band got up on stage, The Jericho Tavern had gone from virtually empty to a little less empty. Despite being far from a sell-out, the crowd who did turn up happily allowed themselves to be absorbed into the fantasy world of Alessi’s Ark. There was something a little bit “away with the fairies” about the Ark’s ubiquitous front woman; telling admittedly bad anecdotes about lingerie, towns she can’t remember the name of as well as picking up the wrong guitar in between songs and stating that she wanted to “get into her pyjamas and join us all in the audience”. Nevertheless, there was nothing scatter-brained about her musical performance.
For the first few songs, something was lacking. On record, the songs sound luscious and polished, but, for some reason, it was that important glossiness that was typically absent. However, after Mr Sound Man twiddled with a few buttons and knobs, beauty was restored and the performance grew in confidence.
Alessi’s strongpoint is her beautifully hushed voice and it was no more prevalent than tonight; songs such as ‘Wire’ and ‘Maybe I Know’ breathed a sultry wooziness which captivated all who were present. The rest of the Ark also proved themselves to be more than superfluous additions to an otherwsie one-woman show. Although the focus primarily remained on Alessi for the duration of the gig, the brilliant country inspired electric guitar didn’t go unnoticed and sometimes stole the show. The wonderful slide at the end of standout track ‘On The Plain’ was a particular highlight.
On my cycle home, I couldn’t help but reflect on what had been a thoroughly enjoyable show. There were no thrills or frills, just a cracking band playing wonderful songs all fronted by one of the funniest and sweetest singers I’ve seen perform in a long time. As I was pondering over the inherent loveliness I had just experienced, I cycled past Fuzzy Ducks and saw a student intentionally expose her arse to a bunch of goading, cheering meatheads dressed up as those 118-118 twats. I couldn’t help but think that the girl in question, despite her obvious drunkenness, will never be as sweet as Alessi; gentle, charming and probably wouldn’t flash her tits at strangers.