Friday, February 22, 2013

High Church Music

St. Bartholomew’s Church in Brighton, squashed in between the London Road and the railway station, is a monument to those architectural feats of the Victorian age. Built entirely of brick in a Germanic style, it is a pre-Brutalist slab that towers above those nearby temples of Mammon, Sainsbury’s and Costa Coffee. Designed by Edmund Scott, with much of the interior the work of the Arts and Crafts movement’s Henry Wilson, it was completed in 1874. Without spire or steeple, the 135-feet height to the apex of its roof gives St. Bartholomew’s claim to have the tallest body of a parish church in the country some weight. Whether this is true or not, it makes the place a bugger to heat.

There are few things in life that could persuade me to join several hundred other people on a perishing February night and sit for two hours in the nave of this church, where the temperature inside seemed no different from the zero degrees outside, but I Am Kloot are one of them. A curious choice for the sold out Sussex stopover of their short English tour, John Bramwell’s Manchester three-piece fit perfectly into this sacred setting, even if they don’t quite see it that way.

Why I Am Kloot are not better known is a puzzle. Bramwell’s gorgeous voice - a weary, reedy burr - and his nagging melodies have spun out across six studio albums since 2001. With sedentary bassist Pete Jobson and Captain Haddock lookalike drummer Andy Hargreaves providing the mainstay of their lazy, jazz-folk psychedelic sound, they only came to national attention when their fifth album, Sky at Night, was unsuccessfully nominated for the Mercury Music Prize. Augmented to a six-piece, the bulk of their set at St. Bartholomew’s is drawn from this album and their latest, Let It All In.

Seated near the front, the sound radiates up and out into the vast space but, as Bramwell notes, those at the back are probably hearing everything 18 seconds later. Bramwell is clearly discomfited by the sanctity of the venue – the band are the only ones in the place with an alcoholic drink – and continually gazes up to check that disapproval is not going to rain down on him. I Am Kloot have a celestial preoccupation: their lyrics are peppered with references to the sky and the stars – their heads are in the clouds. They open with From Your Favourite Sky, and Northern Skies is an early gem in the set. Bullets, Shoeless and Hold Back the Night (the night is another motif) feature amongst others from the new album and the set wraps up with a glorious trio of songs – Lately, Radiation and Proof – from Sky At Night.

When they return to encore with These Days Are Mine (time is also a recurring theme: "Isn't it rich? The future just keeps on coming"), Bramwell confesses that the band have struggled with the acoustics. What sounded spiritual and elegiac to the audience, was the sound of control spiralling away from the band and up into the heavens above.

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