High Places

High Places


Savages, an all-girl four-piece based in London, has been much-hyped in some quarters, but as I head to Salford’s Islington Mill for the band’s second gig in the city within the space of a month, I’m determined to keep an open mind. Despite the girls only playing their first gig in January 2012, they have already had high-profile support slots for the likes of British Sea Power and The Vaccines, and the band has been described in glowing terms by The Guardian (“musically they’re incredible” and “the first vocals/guitar/bass/drums band worth caring about for eons”). The gig seems to be a sell-out and most of those present appear to be either media or gig-goers excited to see what all the fuss is about.

The early arrivals at the venue tonight are witness to a performance by Die Hexen, a Manchester-based duo. A smoke machine is used to prepare the stage for the arrival of the two mysterious women. The singer is dressed all in black, with a matching, lacy eye mask. By contrast, the keyboardist is wearing a white dress. The atmosphere created by the cool keyboard collages and spooky vocals is pierced by sporadic floor-tom pounding from the masked singer. A sense of intrigue continues throughout the short set, with a couple of the numbers in particular featuring some delicious low-frequency sounds that rumble through the Mill. The duo’s name translates as “The Witches”, and in combination with the Germanic connection, it seems to suit them very well.

Next up is High Places, another duo, although this boy/girl electronica combo has travelled further to be here, much further. Singer Mary Pearson variously announces that their home is “Los Angeles” and, later, “the desert”. The growing crowd watches Pearson, on vocals/effects, and bandmate Rob Barber, on samplers/percussion, command the front and centre of the stage to produce a substantial and energetic set. Pearson’s melodic vocals sit nicely within the framework of Barber’s lively beats. I feel like dancing, but the band is also an engaging watch, with Barber’s speedy, almost hypnotic movements catching the eye. Afterwards my friends and I chat with the friendly Barber at the merch table and feel bad for not buying any of the band’s vinyl that he’s selling, especially as the album artwork is fantastic. Alas, we need our remaining cash for a last round of drinks before Savages take to the stage.



By now the floor is densely populated to see the arrival of Savages. The shape of the floor, which is more wide than it is deep, is such that even those at the back can feel physically close to the band: Gemma Thompson (guitar), Ayse Hassan (bass), Fay Milton (drums) and Jehnny Beth (vocals). Straight away it’s obvious that the band is riding a wave of optimism and excitement for what the future might hold, but right now the girls are just enjoying the moment. This band has a passion for their music, which is all about rhythms, textures and ambiance, whilst at the same time having a youthful energy and angst. That the members of Savages are all female seems irrelevant; this is four young people playing music together, and the songs are all that matter. To me these songs evoke images of urban environments late in the evening. There’s danger in the air and anything could happen. Originally from France, singer Jehnny Beth is endlessly watchable with an intensity and pretty tomboy features that combine to give her an impressive stage presence. Sometimes she dips her head urgently to her right as if she’s headbutting a cymbal in time with drummer Fay Milton.

As Savages exit the stage after their encore, and as I make my way with friends amongst the crowd out into the Salford night, there’s a consensus that we’ve experienced something special. The post-gig walk home, which must have taken twenty minutes, seems to pass by in a blur. The late-evening air feels balmy and the senses say that the stars are brighter than usual, even if they are entirely obscured by heavy Mancunian clouds.

Steve Jones

Apart from about five years in total, I've always lived in Manchester. Shame about the weather and lack of beach, but I do like it here. My all-time favourite gig would have to be The National at the Academy in about 2010, although I did get Matt Berninger's mic cable wrapped around my neck (that was a close one). My guilty pleasures include the music of Bruce Springsteen, and I also felt a bit bad for feeling such joy at seeing Counting Crows live in the early 2000s. I recommend Lifter Puller, a rather obnoxious and unpleasant-sounding band that I can't seem to get enough of, even though they are long disbanded. Amongst my Silent Radio gigs, I was blown away by John Murry. I'll let you know if anything tops that one.