On a crisp December evening a line of candle lanterns guided the way up the footpath to Stockland church in rural Devon, where we found the church filled with flowers, a Christmas tree and more candles. This was very much a homecoming gig for India Electric Company, Cole and Joe, who both grew up and whose families still live locally. As a result, the atmosphere of the show was very relaxed, filled with warmth and good humour, more like a lounge concert, as villagers, friends and family of the band arrived bearing plates of nibbles.
The recent releases, EPs EC1M and, earlier this month, Seven Sisters, are exquisitely crafted and rich in layers in keeping with the theme of the records. How possible would it be to retain the atmosphere of these productions in a live environment? It was clear from the opening number that the writing and arrangement skill of the duo would ensure that each song could hold its own in performance. Add to that Cole’s natural charisma as a vocalist and almost hypnotic physical presence with Joe’s expressive playing style and you have the groundwork for intensely beautiful and magical evening.
Both Cole and Joe are incredibly expressive musicians, both multi-instrumentalists, Joe playing piano, accordion, fiddle, guitars, and adding textural bass layers from a keyboard played with his toes. Cole played guitars, mandolin and stomp box whilst also delivering the vocals in his emotive and energetic signature style, responding to the music in a very physical way. Joe’s fiddle playing in particular had a flavour of Peter Knight in the atmospheric harmonics as the bow whistled close the bridge, contrasting with his impressive gypsy jazz improvisation later in the set, a skill he learned in France. His graceful technique was mesmerising to see up-close as the pair navigated the church and performed a tune among the audience.
On stage it was clear to see the great rapport between the two musicians, with broad grins shared over the odd dropped note as they raced through an incredible set of traditional pieces that Joe has resurrected following his research into English tunes. It was Cole who addressed the audience, juxtaposing his impassioned performance with light hearted chat between the songs. We had a brief reminder of appropriate etiquette when travelling on the London Underground and an update on Joe’s socks (both at least from the same pack tonight if not a genuine matching pair!) Indeed, it is the contrast between life in London and their rural home in Devon that helped create the theme of the EPs, and you should definitely make a point of hearing IEC live to hear in their own words the inspiration and stories behind the songs.
There wasn’t a single song or tune that didn’t deserve a mention in either of the two sets, but here it is hopefully enough to whet your appetite by touching on some standout numbers. Early into the evening Joe took to the piano for a beautiful stripped back arrangement of Heimat. The combination of piano and guitar captured the essence of the song and the impact of the church acoustic seemed to paint extra layers into the spaces. Even with Joe off stage right, the connection between the duo remained intense.
Perhaps the pinnacle of writing, arrangement and performance that evening was their interpretation of Flash Company. This is a near perfect example of the duo’s handling of a traditional song, getting under the skin of the lyrics and the melody to deliver a truly modern re-telling with drama and a pop sensibility. With just piano and voice, Cole captured the despair and regretful sentiment of the song. Just as many have suggested that Claire Hastings setting of the Burn’s poem The Posie should be considered the definitive arrangement of that song, it is tempting to say the same of India Electric Company and Flash Company.
Take the Buckles was similarly strong, this time using the violin to help skillfully highlight the dark theme of the lyrics, once again illustrating the innovativeness of their approach, talking traditional instruments, songs and tunes and restructuring them to sound almost like they could pass for a modern pop song. Nowhere is this exemplified better than the Seven Sisters EP. A triumphant performance of Eyes and Tears closed the second set and had the audience clapping along, and they returned to close the show with yet another strong example of a reworked traditional song in the form of My Friends are Rich, a reinterpretation of the The Girl I Left Behind. Brilliant stuff.
The duo are off on a headline tour throughout February and into March 2018 and you would do well to catch them if you can.
Words: Jo Elkington and Lee Cuff
Photos: Jo Elkington
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