The early evening shade was leaning across the Lloyds Amphitheatre when a low humming synth sustain began to seep out from the stage along with wisps of smoke. The sound beckoned humbly for attention like an understated alarm.
Enter Ghost Poet, smart and polite, in both behaviour and music. The drawled stories of Obaro Ejimiwe’s stage presence is the only real appeal of this support act. Backed by a mail-order piano and synth-rock band, the compositions were not exactly innovative, but credit due to the musicians nonetheless. Especially the rhythm section, who pushed the pieces through as planned with some enthusiasm.
Vocals this reliant on intentional faltering and semi-mumbled intimacy, are a hard sell, especially in a city with a reputation for pioneering examples, and when performed over such forgettable instrumentals.
The set was crying out for an injection of moodiness and suspense in the accompaniment, which might bring out the campfire truths of his poetry. Either way, Ghostpoet had cool frontman charm with love for Bristol, and served up a gently inoffensive warm up for the main act.
Cinematic Orchestra launched off with an energetic intro of their beat-driven jazz. All layers of sweet harmonics with the sun setting on a hot summer night. Seagulls above the harbour the only characters at the venue with the sun on them at this stage.
Below the sunlit display team, outbreaks of sax, those timeless chord + melody combos with deft drum momentum, made the many Ninja Tune fans revert to those school bus headphone discovery days, cool as club music that tugs on your heartstrings. Especially when track two is Man With The Movie Camera; a favourite from my sixth form drum lesson days, all spy movie staccato loops and eery, driving tension.
Before long we were gifted with incredible guest vocals from Talia and Heidi Vogel, all soul and mic technique in front of Luke Flowers’ skittering drum skills that tricked the body and brain to happily lose the time signature. Those jazz chords and rising pads, again, Jason Swinscoe’s gift to the nu-jazz archive with this back catalogue. Arpeggio brass samples and belly flopping bass-lines that dance with the beat, and charm the pants off of the steeliest attendee.
This is a band who know how to wield fragility, true dynamics that don’t lose the spirit or grip, it was easy to feel as blessed with memorable festival performance as those lucky 100,000 campers down the road this weekend. Solo looping woodwind trickery, that built to oboe overlays and sonic twists from a dubwise and psychedelic Swinscoe control table. Intensifying layers that gracefully drop into more lush chords and walking bass.
Vogel managed to use her weaponised goosebump-inducing voice to quieten 80% of the beery hubbub that wasn’t, as yet, in full attention.
A wild version of Channel 1 Suite got a hijack from another sax outbreak, maybe dominating over the drum-heavy appeal of the studio version, but here’s a band who have proven their abilities to record select phrases, and satisfy both UK electronica beat heads and tripped jazz critics around the world. They can be forgiven a release of freestyle on stage, imagine the studio outtakes…
Swinscoe encourages the city to pick it up, he himself embarking on some Theremin-esque wig-out from his table of production kit, and then the acoustic version of To believe that I had heard on the radio and wasn’t convinced, now made sense in context… but I’m still relieved that the finale is Heidi Vogel, once again her pipes stealing the show with a worthy rendition of All That You Give, lyrically poignant and complete with the full, rich, beautiful and heavy world of this iconic Orchestra.
It was well worth the 12-year wait to see them and re-lit my enthusiasm for their works.
All photos by Ania Shrimpton
Read More: Review: Elbow, Bristol Sounds 2019