Photography: Kevin Barrett

Charles Howl

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  • Beija Flo
Harvest Sun @ The Shipping Forecast 31/5/18

It’s a crowded stage at The Shipping Forecast tonight. Even with only BEIJA FLO’s solitary presence there’s a variety of amps and keyboards on stage, around which are dotted various mannequins and Flo’s deconstructed bouquet of lilies. The artist herself is looking resplendent in red sequinned leotard and trademark smudged make-up. A performer of paradoxes, Beija Flo is at once vulnerable and an exhibitionist. On occasion it feels like her bold and honest ballads, backed by chamber pop tracks from a laptop, deserve a more expansive sound; but at the same time that vulnerability, along with her rhetorical dialogue with the MacBook, adds to a spellbinding performance.

The drama and theatrics of the support act is followed by an all-together more workmanlike performance from CHARLES HOWL. A project which came to full fruition last year with the release of the excellent solo LP My Idol Family, the group has developed from a collaboration between Londoners Let’s Wrestle (frontman Danny Nellis’ Korg sports LW leader Wesley Gonzalez’s name this evening) and Proper Ornaments. That album is replicated in all its glory tonight and sounds wonderful.

Keeping to his enigmatic reputation, there’s little in the way of pleasantries from Nellis. Two incidents characterise tonight’s performance, one being a passive aggressive exchange with the sound tech who is quick to point out that he can’t understand instructions delivered through a reverb-heavy mic; the other is the hastiest, most unceremonious stage exit I’ve witnessed. The languid tempo and wry observation of social interaction in The Dinner Party is a fitting soundtrack to the vague tensions that linger through the night.

Charles Howl Image 2

That being said, there is little to fault about the actual music; at the top of set, the chamber psych of Death Of Print announces the band with panache. As well as honourable sentiment, the track is a brilliant distillation of Charles Howl’s charms, with a driving drum beat propelling a darkly beautiful mod cut, akin to somewhere between The Velvet Underground and The Pretty Things.

The generous helping of tracks last year’s long player means there’s little room in the set for debut Sir Vices, save for the delicate stomper Lunacy. This track adds to a performance which touches upon a huge gamut of genres. Flashes of garage rock, orchestral pop and glam are all expertly balanced so as not to make it parody nor regressive.

While they may have done more to enamour themselves to a thin but devoted audience on stage tonight, perhaps it’s the attention Charles Howl is giving to his songwriting and recording craft which has brought his success, even if it’s to the detriment of social niceties.

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