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First Aid Kit

First Aid Kit

The Toff in Town, Melbourne

by GringoKev

The sound of two voices singing in perfect harmony is one that produces a strange sensation. A feeling that something wrong in our world has just gone right.  A feeling that hits you in the stomach and spreads warmly from there. Two voices meld seamlessly into one and light up the dark night.

I was lucky enough to spend almost ninety minutes soaking in the luxurious wooden bathtub that is First Aid Kit live. Two Swedish girls aged 17 and 20 singing such true meditations on love, travels and loss that one can only begin to imagine what lies in their bright musical futures.

Sisters Johanna and Klara Soderberg originally made a name for themselves with their recording of Fleet Foxes’ ‘Tiger Mountain Peasant Song’ - a video filmed in the Swedish forest that attracted a viral following on YouTube. This led the duo to release an EP in 2008 under the name First Aid Kit. Their faultless debut album ‘The Big Black & The Blue’ was released earlier this year.           

This Melbourne gig - their first in Australia - had a raw and communal vibe to it.  The cosy surrounds of The Toff’s bandroom set the scene for the intimate show and from their first note the duo had the crowd swimming in their otherworldly hymns. Playing a collection of songs mainly drawn from their debut album, the girls peppered their performance with charming anecdotes and sisterly banter.

What was especially heart warming was that First Aid Kit seemed genuinely excited to be in Melbourne and well, clearly nervous. It was refreshing to see a band that actually cares about their audiences and their live shows. The duo managed to cultivate a personal relationship with the audience that I have rarely seen with international acts.

How First Aid Kit ended their show speaks volumes about this unique ability. The girls requested that the audience form a circle in the standing area. They then left the stage, guitars in hand and with no microphones played Donovan’s ‘Universal Soldier’ in the middle of that circle.

A pure serving of wholesome folk, and one that went down a warm treat in the last days of Melbourne winter.

Alan Pownall – True Love Stories
I first stumbled across Alan Pownall last February when he was supporting Marina & the Diamonds in Bristol’s coolest live music venue, The Cooler. As is the case in many of today’s gigs, the crowd were waiting impatiently for the main act to appear. It would be fair to say that nobody had come out to see Mr. Pownall and his band that night, although Bristol gave him a respectful reception all the same.

I don’t know to what extent my reaction was shared by the rest of the audience, but I was thereafter blown away by the new folk talent before my very eyes. I like to think that I’m clued up in terms of the emerging British folk scene, but the name Alan Pownall didn’t even ring a bell. At various points, I was left thinking, No, this must be a cover – there isn’t a young solo artist writing such high-quality folk material in 2010.

After seeing him again in April, this time supporting the brilliant Angus & Julia Stone, I was sure this musician was heading for the top. After all, he had spent some of his youth flat-sharing with Mumford & Sons – not a bad education in modern folk! BBC Radio 1, a station which seems to be giving folk more of a chance recently with repeated airings of Laura Marling and the aforementioned Mumford & Sons, had soon picked up on his talent and his stock was on the rise. With the release of his debut album True Love Stories on the 19th of July, needless to say I was expecting big things. I’d even pre-ordered, which is a big commitment for a poor student! I’m afraid to report, however, that I was left disappointed. I don’t know whether Mercury Records were behind the decision-making or whether it was Pownall himself, but the album leaned disappointingly away from his folk routes and towards the pop end of the musical spectrum. Great compositions such as Colourful Day, Too Many Holes and Don’t You Know Me have seemingly been treated to synthetic four-bar loops, complete with hi-hats and subtle (albeit occasional) use of AutoTune. Not cool. 

Alan Pownall’s acoustic live sets are still of the highest calibre and tell of a great musical talent. Unfortunately, his album has gone mainstream enough to target pop-hungry teenagers, instead of etching his name into the stone of British nu-folk alongside the likes of Johnny Flynn and Fionn Regan. While he has untold potential for the future, True Love Stories is a debut with glimpses of genius too often masked by generic synthetic overtures. 

GringoRating™ -- 6.5/10

True Love Stories: GringoSam (right) accompanied by Alan Pownall. Leeds, April