Aldous Harding

Aldous Harding


New Zealand folk singer songwriter Hannah Hardings’ English-accented singing voice is strong enough to have drawn comparisons to Vashti Bunyan, but it’s not as though she’s  really forcing it, like Joanna Newsom. The delivery of her lyrics – which one could envisage were written on a remote farm, free from technology – seem all too natural to her, despite the contrasting sharp antipodean wit that she displays between songs.

‘Aldous’ appears at peace with her discomfort. Support, during her first few songs, comes from her partner and opening act Marlon Williams – the man who is the subject of most of her writing… him, and “the devil”. She starts with the first song from her self-titled debut album ‘Stop Your Tears’. Feeling her way into this intimate gig, she requests subtle sound adjustments in an attempt to get it just right. Marlon borrows the guitar for the next song, adding that it was written by them both in Lyttelton, a small town outside of Christchurch. “Great story, babe. Nailed it”.

Gulliver’s newly opened groundfloor backroom is a perfect venue for these “gothic fairytales”. A few dozen people face the small corner stage, some sit on the floor near her feet, offering Hannah guitar tuning advice and sips of their drinks. Wind and heavy rain occasionally make their presence known against the windows, adding to the homely vibe, created by the smell and flicker of burning candles.

I would narrate this entire evening to you if I could, just so I could document all the finer details. My words seem somewhat redundant after listening to hers… but, I’ll continue. Her lyrics are precious and startlingly poignant, using quaint metaphor to economically convey deep emotion. The way she sings enhances the heartache or delight in her tales, and her acoustic guitar brightens and darkens the mood further still. It’s all really quite heartbreaking.

After ‘Beast’, she declares “it’s fair to say I smashed it”. No one here will disagree, including Maryanne Hobbs, who is sat in the front row. ‘Titus Groan’ is a personal favourite from the album and tonight’s rendition does not disappoint. New material also impresses immensely; she tests a song on us that she wrote two days ago, when she was feeling weepy. “This world is looking for you… no end to the madness I feel”. She makes a mistake on her acoustic guitar and mutters “fuck”, mid-song, making the crowd laugh for the dozenth time tonight.

‘Hunter’ is also a highlight – a song requested enthusiastically by the audience after being offered a choice. The strings on the album version, it seems, aren’t really necessary at all. Comparisons to James Yorkston and The Athletes are therefore also discarded … although I saw him live at Matt & Phred’s a while back, and his humour wasn’t dissimilar – calling the gathered audience “weirdos” for enjoying his rather depressing work. Tiny Ruins, spring to mind.

While she plays, her mannerisms are almost as mesmerising and distracting as her words and fingerpicking; she leans over and hugs her guitar, pulling faces while resting her chin… occasionally gurns, or flashes a wink or a cheeky smile to someone in the audience… pushes her microphone away with her mouth and stares beyond the corners of this room… closes her eyes tight and then glances around, as if startled. Playacting. Uncomfortable in her own skin? Maybe. What next? She mentions anxiety on a few occasions… and then says something hilarious. I love her.

We are informed that the next song would be her last, and then after a pause, adds that she might do an encore if we wanted. She covers a Robbie Basho song ‘Blue Crystal Fire’. No one here has heard of him, either. It was a perfect song choice for this set. She had considered Africa by Toto, so thank god for Basho. Shouts in unison of “MORE” force her back into her chair – she finishes with ‘Small Bones of Courage’, because she’s in too good a mood to sing ‘No Peace’… despite an attempt to arrive in a suitable frame of mind by visualising boiling kittens.

“…feed these words to the wind, so they may one day return… as we lay on wet stones, before the fires edge, we swore to never eat from those bleeding hands again, and we sang the words together in the ember…”

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Peter Rea

I like to go see fresh new music at Manchester's superb selection of smaller venues, and then share my enthusiasm.