In December 2019 I attended the Fire Records Christmas gig at Studio 9295 in Hackney. It’s the sort of event I’d like to see more of: a selection of artists with 40-ish minute sets, and all in a relaxed and friendly atmosphere. So how fortuitous it was to discover that the label were dishing up a repeat for 2021 called “Heaven on Fire”: same venue, for a small showcase of their artists. And all acts predominately female, too.
A quick aside about Studio 9295: it’s a great little spot and good for those who like an intimate and friendly venue. The space is wide rather than long, meaning shorter gig-goers don’t have too much trouble of getting a good view of the stage.
I arrived just in time for Modern Studies who I’d seen at the previous event: that set was enough to turn me into an enthusiastic fan of their sensitive, thoughtful indie folk. They opened with Photograph from latest album The Weight of the Sun. It’s a sun-dappled and mystical track, redolent with memories of Pentangle and back-to-the-woods psychedelic folk. The vocals, from Emily Scott and Rob St John are soothing, steady and restrained, occupying a space within the songs layers. They followed this with a new number, plus a beautiful version of She.
Marina Allen is up next: she is poised and in possession of extraordinary cool as she steps up to the front of the stage to tune her guitar. She plays songs from her new album called Candlepower. Her vocal agility is impressive, and she can shift from gentle and sweet to powerful in seconds. It was not an easy task as an unknown solo singer songwriter slotted between three more well-known acts but Marina managed to hold the crowd.
Vanishing Twin are not only fiercely experimental but a visual treat; front woman Cathy Lucas moves around the small stage in a spotty jumpsuit, and spends one song flinging a spotlight around, shining it on the face of placid keyboardist Phil MFU. As expected the set contains a smattering of tracks from their latest album Ookii Gekkou which is one of my favourite of the year; the band open with the spacey, mystical, jazz inflected Big Moonlight. We go deeper into Vanishing Twin’s alternative universe with the swoopy, dreamy Telescope.
The final artist for the night, Jane Weaver introduces several numbers from her latest work Flock – it’s Weaver’s pop record, nevertheless still redolent with signature spacey, psychedelic touches. Pyramid Schemes sets the scene to hopefully gets everyone dancing (result = some of us do). The glorious Heartlow followed with its mysterious tension and euphoric wash of vocals. Towards the end I head for the merch stall at the back where I discover some Kate Bush-style psychedelic dancing has broken out, especially to the seductive swoops of Mission Desire. Weaver gets a great reception from the crowd.
While we muddle our way through these strange and shifting times, being able to see so many artists in one evening felt like a real luxury.