No one could have prepared me for what I would discover when I took a spontaneous venture out to Leicester Square Theatre last Sunday night (September 7). When Jo Hamilton stepped foot onto the stage and took her first breath, I knew that whatever she was going to release would sweep away any preconceived anxieties that the busy city of London can sometimes trigger, and create a cloud of amorous bliss. And that she did, her voice drifted through the air like a delicate dandelion captivating the hearts of everyone in the room.
Beginning the set with a few older tunes off her debut album Gown, sees Hamilton use a rather interesting instrument called the airpiano. She was in fact the first ever musician to use the airpiano, seeking out German inventor Omer Yosha in the early days of the instruments development. The MIDI and OSC controller uses infrared sensors to trigger virtual keys and samples with the swipe of a hand. It completely compliments Hamilton’s aesthetic stage presence, as her rhythmical gestures create flowing transitions whilst maintaining posture.
Her tall slender figure dressed head to toe in black, intensifies the impression that materialistic tendencies within the music industry have unscathed her. Effortless rapport with the audience sweetens the atmosphere as she jokes about her favourite piece of merchandise – a tea towel with artwork from her forthcoming album Fractals printed on it. We begin a journey through old and new material featuring a new gem titled “Calendar“, a beautiful stripped back song with simple guitar and haunting vocals, demonstrating the light and shade Hamilton can express through the ranges of her voice with total perfection. She really takes advantage of the intimacy of the room building from softer shades to overwhelmingly exuberant bursts of power.
It was her most popular song “Liathach” that produced the real goose bump moment. When the words “you’re my Liathach” came pouring out of her mouth, I could have sworn everyone stopped breathing. I’ve never seen an audience so unfeignedly respectful and appreciative. Putting a label on Hamilton’s style is difficult as she mixes many aspects from various genres creating a concoction of her own. The experimental nature of her music boasts hints of Trip-Hop with comparisons to Bjork and Imogen Heap in the way of exploring new technology and sound tapestries. Yet tonal similarities to that of Canadian contemporary songstresses Sarah McLachlan and Feist seep into Hamilton’s voice.
On this occasion, Hamilton had chosen to set the drummer up in an isolation booth, producing an incredibly clear sound that didn’t over power the small venue. The use of this technique also played a great role in blending the timbres of the accompanying instruments in an aurally pleasing way. An outcome of which I’m sure Hamilton had planned out to the very last sound trail. Samples weren’t overused, creating a sense of space giving the bass enough room to cut through, with some really funky jazz lines.
Hamilton’s colourful upbringing is incredibly evident in the way she crafts her music. Her lyrics reflect the deep isolation experienced in the Highlands of Scotland and disconnect with her heritage. Yet they also shed light on her sense of adventure in love and life. The contrast in emotion on her face and the energy she exuded in her live performance prove that Hamilton is one exquisite musician. A computer crash at the end of the set resulted in an encore of stripped back vocals and guitar, which didn’t faze the audience at all. One audience member even yelled out to Hamilton saying she didn’t need any accompaniment, as her beautiful voice was all we needed. And yes we did need it. I would even go as far as saying we were craving it by the end.
Jo Hamilton’s sophomore album Fractals will be released this winter.
Words by Louie Smith // Edited by Ayo Adepoju