What a splendid venue. I must confess, gentle reader, that I chose to cover this gig almost as much for the location as the band. St Philip’s in Salford is a prime example of the modern use of churches as music venues, thus getting bums on pews and coffers in the canister in these secular times. Apparently the full title is St Philip with St Stephen, though the latter barely gets a mention in common reference. Perhaps St Stephen would be miffed at this reduced billing were he still around, though if so that would be very un-saintly of him.

I arrive as the half-full hall sits rapt, the support act having just started. Seemingly consisting of one man hunched over a laptop and further electronic gubbins, The Boats treat the audience to what sounds like an orchestra trapped in a blizzard – a continuous, nebulous soundscape with fragments of choirs and strings fading into a blanket of windswept white noise.

The chap responsible is a fairly restrained performer, remaining hunched and gently nodding his head to a rhythm that isn’t always apparent. Rather affecting and perfectly suited to the atmospherics of the church, the sound montage eventually comes to an abrupt end with what sounds like (and may well be) the sudden yank of a turntable arm across vinyl, followed by deserved applause.

After a break enabling a sample of the local ale on tap in the church (at half the price of the mass-produced bottles and cans sold at more established venues), North Sea Radio Orchestra begin with their interpretation of William Blake’s poem The Angel. Lead vocalist Sharron Fortnam breathes musical life into Blake’s words and her voice is a thing of beauty, singing sparingly yet clearly feeling every last note. How refreshing it is to see a singer shorn of both inhibition and histrionics, knowing that the judicious landing of a few drops can be more affecting than a deluge.

Sharron is ably aided by the picking skills of husband Craig Fortnam on guitar, a man as content to yield a platform for the other players as he is to display his own virtuosity. NSRO are built around Craig’s songwriting and he leads from the front, counting the others in and directing like the most benign of dictators.

This is an unusually subtle and gentle gig, with the audience barely making a sound – whilst every nuance of the band can be heard and they are certainly loud enough, during Heavy Weather I can hear Sharron tapping her thigh to the rhythm from my position in the front pews. Later she thanks the audience for showing their warmth – “sometimes you have to reach out and grab it, but we’re feeling it, so thank you.”

NSRO have been accused of tweeness, but songs from new album I A Moon have a more commanding presence live. Berliner Luft, borne of the Fortnams’ “mini-German obsession” according to Craig, is propelled by Sharron’s drumming and has an urgency that outmatches the studio version. The final song is their arrangement of WB Yeats’ He Wishes For The Cloths Of Heaven. Sharron suggests we join in with the ‘ooh oohs’ in the chorus and the string players sway and oblige, amongst others.

Craig has expressed displeasure with press references to the quintessential Englishness of his outfit, but NSRO do have a nameless and timeless quality seemingly rooted in the rolling fields, seasons and elements peculiar to Albion – perhaps that’s why they are able to soundtrack our classic poetry so well. A band to be treasured.