Saskia Griffiths-Moore is an artist who has grown quickly, releasing her début EP "The Presence" in 2016. In the same year came the first full album "Gentle Heart". With a distinctive voice that is not readily comparable to anyone else, although several get mentioned, and an approachable personality she made good progress on the acoustic scene. But, how was she going to take that next step up and establish a name? Saskia is not afraid to take risks; she gave up a successful business to pursue her musical dream so she knows how to market herself and get noticed and she has used that knowledge to create something new.
The latest album, "Night and Day", is a quantum leap for a performer who has mainly been a solo artist until now and was launched to an enthusiastic and knowledgeable crowd at The Sound Lounge, one of the most innovative venues in London. It was a fitting location. For this album Saskia gathered some of the brightest and best musicians of their generation; Lukas Drinkwater, Jack Cookson, Ciaran Algar and Evan Carson. 'Supergroup' is, perhaps, an over-used term but was applicable here. The demands on their time are so great that the launch was the only time they will appear together live on the tour that accompanies the album.
Such was the quality of the evening that the support act was Jacob & Drinkwater, who could probably have filled the venue in their own right. These two excellent musicians, Lukas playing the double bass as if it were a guitar on occasions, gave a great set of songs studded with relaxed jokes and banter as would be expected from friends who also happen to be at the top of their game. Their evident enjoyment at playing spread to the audience to really kick-start the night. Another sign of the skill that these musicians have is that Ciaran Algar joined them for their final song, probably unrehearsed, and fitted in seamlessly. He is, after all, current FATEA instrumentalist of the year.
Saskia opened her set with "All For You", a big punchy alt-folk number that got the audience moving and showed the band to their best effect. This song set the scene not just for the evening but also for the performer, being a potted history of her musical past with its story of doubts and setbacks but also a steely determination to give it her best shot.
Saskia is not just a performer who turns up and plays. More than anyone I can think of she understands the community side of music; the need to build and retain an audience and make them a part of the story. At her album launch for "Gentle Hearts" she had an eat-and-greet before the show where a few of us had a meal together and several friendships came from that. This sense of community was also evident at this launch. As she said, she had two families there on the night; her relations and her musical family. This album, as so many are these days, was crowdfunded and part of that process is becoming a part of the outcome. It's a measure of the relationship Saskia has with her audience that the initial target for the campaign was reached in just a few days and more than doubled that target soon afterwards.
All of the songs from the album, which has eleven tracks, were played on the night over two sets. There's a good mix of tempo, theme and depth in the songs and another lesson Saskia has learnt quickly is that just because you can do something it doesn't mean you have to. The backing musicians were used in varying combinations according to needs, so the songs ranged from full on sound to stripped back acoustic. The title track "Night and Day" is an example of this minimalist sound; down in the lower ranges it has a darker feel to it and one wonders if the refrain
"Even if you pass away
I am with you night and day"
is as comforting as it sounds.
This is a review of the night rather than the album, which is very good, but the songs do deserve sampling. "Gone" is another autobiographical piece, examining the choices Saskia had to make when deciding how to live her life. Like Kaity Rae's "All That I Am" it becomes a statement that there is no back-up plan. Her decision will have a profound effect on her life; moving house, perhaps leaving some people behind but it has to be done.
Saskia describes herself as "nu-folk" and she is certainly in that field, acknowledging the influences of Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez and Sandy Denny on her work and "After" is a song very much in the tradition of these luminaries. Written when she was 16 it's a conversation with herself about life, a life not without its teenage problems of wanting to be involved but also being on her own and unsure about letting others in.
She can also sit very firmly in the middle of the tradition as she showed with a very good version of "Wild Mountain Thyme". Played acoustically, with Lukas Drinkwater accompanying her on guitar and backing vocals, it was a great example of not doing too much and letting the song tell its own story. It would have received the approval of the most ardent finger-in-ear traditionalist but she also made it sound fresh and modern. Even Cohen's "Hallelujah", possibly the most covered song around, sounded good and was rather sweetly included for nostalgic reasons as the first song she ever played in public. There are traditions everywhere.
Between the music there was plenty of chat from the stage and a good few one-liners. The best was Saskia asking how many in the audience knew the next song and deciding it was about 45%. "And so do 40% of the band," came back Lukas!
Part of the joy of the evening was watching these skilful and talented individuals working so well together whilst thoroughly enjoying themselves. Saskia was full of smiles the whole evening and she had the right to be; this album and the evening were the culmination of a year's hard work coming to fruition. As she said to me after the show it was the best evening she'd ever had. The audience would probably agree with her.
The event was promoted by Laurel Canyon Music, also FATEA award winners, and known for quality music across London, and hosted by Ray Jones who has a passion for independent music that is hard to match. Simon on sound did a great job and showed how important the backstage is whilst The Sound Lounge made the perfect hosts.
The only sad point of the night was the news that there will not be many more nights like this in Tooting. Unless there is a change in political will they will be out in the new year as the site gets redeveloped into yet another hotel with corporate chain shops when the site is redeveloped and a unique and necessary venue is lost forever. The musical family will lose another member unless the Mayor of London can come good on the fine words he spoke less than a year ago when he threw his weight behind supporting grassroots music.
Words & photos: Tony Birch
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