The Shhh London Festival – a Celebration of Quiet Music

Shhh London - Quiet Music Festival
Shhh London - Quiet Music Festival

On Saturday 31st January, I attended my first music festival of the year. The Shhh London Festival has been going for several years now and is a celebration of “Quiet Music” kicking against the noise-mongers and chattering gig-goers alike.

The Shhh Festival has been staged in London, Glasgow and Leeds, and this year returns to the idyllic, quaint and perfect setting of Heath Street Baptist Church in Hampstead north London. The church doors opened at midday with the music starting at 1pm. If I’m being honest, a whole day of so-called “Quiet Music” amongst an audience of chin-stroking Jazz Club-esque purveyors of all things Folk, would I thought, have me rushing home to play Sonic Youth or My Bloody Valentine at full blast. But then again, I don’t know what constitutes “quiet music”. The first impression is of acoustics only, beards, folk music, beards, acoustic guitars, beards and songs of drinking around a campfire protesting about nuclear power and capitalism; and as it happened, as far as this celebration of Quiet Music goes, I was wrong.

The day was well organised alternately using two stages which helped the continuity of the event. No long intermissions waiting for the drummer to put his 32-piece kit together and individually gets each drum to sound ‘just right’ through a mixing desk the size of a small caravan. Upstairs, artists adorned a small stage while the audience sat on uncomfortable pews. While downstairs, a small stage was set in front of clusters of chairs around candlelit tables, giving the appearance of a coffee shop or folk club, while food and drink was served from a small kitchen to the rear. However, I unfortunately missed Pip Mountjoy who, I learned later, performed on a different stage to the one advertised to accommodate for an artist turning up without a piano. As running orders were freely available I think more could have been done to notify the audience of the changes.

There were plenty of beards and acoustic guitars. But it wasn’t long before the first electric guitars and drums stretched the boundaries of singer-songwriter folk ‘quiet music’ to include a much darker, moodier sound; and it’s here where I learn the ‘Quiet Music’ label is a state of mind and rather less restrictive than I had otherwise anticipated. “Quiet Music is music you need to listen to” someone told me “something that because of its very nature needs to be listened to.”

Whereas I understand that explanation, I’m not sure it’s a strong enough concept to create a genre defining ground rule. Especially as the music gathered together for this year’s Shhh Festival could at best, very loosely fit under a folk umbrella.

Of the performances I managed to catch, three stood out as pretty much perfect in every way. Aaron Fyfe performed naked but for some clothes, a hat, full beard, a beautiful sounding, well travelled acoustic guitar and his powerful, gritty voice. Fyfe’s songs tell stories of hardship, pain and lost loves in such a poetic way for such a young man. Stripped to the bone, Fyfe played and sung his heart out; and in doing so, gave a very powerful and somewhat emotional performance to the very appreciative audience that had gathered especially.

The penultimate act of the day was Lowpines, a solo project of Oli Deakin. With a distinct lack of acoustic guitars and beards, Oli Deakin took to the stage with his fender guitar, amp and array of effects pedals to play lo-fi alt country songs with Englishness all of its own. The songs are gentle while Deakin’s voice is whispered and fragile. Acoustic harmonies between guitar reverb and church organ give the songs a haunting, peaceful beauty. Deakin invites fellow musician Lyla Foy to join him on stage for a few songs, and a great set just gets better. Their voices perfectly entwine, as do two effect-saturated guitars, but not so much when Lyla switched to bass. Lowpines are making waves and no doubt after this performance managed to sell out of the self-produced orange-coloured cassette tapes they were selling along with other artists CDs and vinyl.

The headline act for this year’s Shhh Festival was Wooden Arms. A piano is pushed towards centre-stage and makes room for a cellist and violinist to hug one side of the stage. While on the other, a drummer is accompanied by vocalist and part-time bass player who also plays an occasional small keyboard of sorts. Centre-stage stands a guitarist with a trumpet at his feet and a microphone stand. With the pianist, there are three vocalists. Their harmonies are angelic and to die for, the songs exquisite and their performance totally mesmerising.

Wooden Arms fuse chamber music with a contemporary folk-edged freshness. Nothing of the like, of which I have heard before. I am left dazed with their performance like a rabbit in headlights. It is a fitting way to be left as I file out of the Heath Street Baptist Church in Hampstead into the bitterly cold winters night. For me, the Shhh Festival celebrating Quiet Music was very much a success and well worth every minute.

Aaron Fyfe to release his wonderful debut album, 10 Songs

Aaron Fyfe releases debut album ‘10 Songs’
Aaron Fyfe releases debut album ‘10 Songs’

Aaron Fyfe is a 26 year old multi-talented Glaswegian.  His many talents include being a folk music singer, songwriter, skateboarder and surfer.  Fortunately his music cannot be described as folk meets surf!

On 23 February he follows his recent double a-sided single ‘Campfires’ / ‘Love That’s Lost’ with his debut album simply entitled 10 Songs on the Glasgow start up label Tentman.

Like the album title, much of Aaron Fyfe’s music is stripped down, bare and honest.  His voice transparent and warm is full of emotion. The songs tell of loneliness, loss, a few highs but mainly lows and despair.  Aaron Fyfe has the ability to draw you in with his ability to write a great tune and tell an absorbing tale, especially on a cold winter’s night.

Listening to the sadness of ‘Love That’s Lost’ I get the sense he is sharing intimate feelings as we hold on to the bar, sipping whisky and forgetting, rather than performing for the madding crowd. In amongst a healthy revival of folk music, Fyfe stands out.  Sincerity and good songs, like cream, will always rise to the top.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kHS4IMoun7A

10 Songs is going to be one of the Best Albums of the Year 2015.

The album starts with both single tracks ‘Campfires’ and a personal favourite, ‘Love That’s Lost’.  The other 8 songs include ‘All These Days of Changing’, a song co-written with Echo & The Bunnymen guitarist Gordy Goudie and co-produced by Gordy Goudie, David Thomas and Teenage Fanclub’s Francis Macdonald. The song is more upbeat, backed with a full band, given a commercial production; and if any is the track that could propel Fyfe into the big top stage of commercial folk pop with the likes of The Lumineers and Mumford & Sons; while the tracks ‘Something Real’ and ‘Dirty Glass’ err towards a hazy, warmer alt country sound akin to Whiskeytown and Ryan Adams.  These songs don’t lose any integrity or passion, but gain from growing a solo performance to a fuller, more expansive sound.

On the forthcoming single ‘Rocking Chair’, the sound is stripped right back once more. Fyfe plays a simple yet catchy tune while his voice leads the listener through gentle and powerful waves of emotion.  Simple, effective, absorbing and intense, in poetically beautiful equal measures.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sygumG_eWtc

10 Songs isn’t just one man and his guitar, though the emphasis is on one young man’s voice, his acoustic guitar and the way in which he lays bare his life and soul.

Listening to 10 Songs, it’s somewhat difficult to appreciate that Aaron Fyfe is only 26.  He performs and writes with such character and experience. But this is a man whose life is all to do with performing music. Having lived in York, Manchester, Edinburgh and Newquay as well as spending a year in a shed, Aaron travels to play music and plays music to travel, as he continually tours the UK in a beat up customized camper van playing, he suggests, wherever there is an audience.

Folk music is no longer a dirty word, something to be ignored.  In fact it’s cool!  You don’t have to grow a beard to appreciate it, but it helps!

10 songs by Aaron Fyfe is a cracking uber cool debut album that should be the start of a great 2015 for one of the UK’s most talented new folk music artists.

Aaron Fyfe will be performing at Shhh Festival at Heath Street Baptist Church in Hampstead, London on Saturday 31st January, 2015.

Aaron Fyfe releases debut album 10 Songs on 23 February 2015 via the Tentman label.

SHHH London – a celebration of quiet music

Shhh London - Quiet Music Festival
Shhh London - Quiet Music Festival

SHHH London is the celebration of quiet music in Hampstead‘s picturesque Heath Street Baptist Church.  Be welcomed to a contemplative day dedicated to some of the best new music around.  It was developed by London music hub The Local and visual artist Luke Drodz.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uXu3eHMCdgo

Already in it’s eighth year, this year’s line-up includes a wide spectrum of beautiful music and very interesting ideas. SHHH London opens at midday on Saturday 31st January.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kHS4IMoun7A

SHHH London 2015 Line-up:
Wooden Arms
Laura Moody
Pip Mountjoy
Aaron Fyfe
Forced Random
Seftel
Rhain
With Sun
Dusty Stray
Rixhard Navarro
Paul Armfield
Ajimal
Puzzle Muteson
Helmut
De’borah

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3_BlvZrL8ns

SHHH London 2015
31st January
Heath Street Baptist Church, Hampsted, NW3

SHHH Festival Tickets
£17.00 adv  / £20 door