As far as fes­ti­vals are con­cerned, win­ter is the new sum­mer.  Take SHHH Qui­et music fes­ti­val organ­ised by The Local.TV and visu­al artist Luke Drozd – a musi­cal feast last­ing from noon to near­ly mid­night, in a cosy church in north Lon­don. SHHH is now in it’s 8th year, with much involve­ment from music pro­mot­er and musi­cian Howard Monk. The loca­tion is Heath Street Bap­tist Church in Hamp­stead vil­lage, and the inte­ri­or feels as if it could have been designed for this very event, if I can say that with­out upset­ting the pow­ers on high. Once you’re inside, tucked away from the ele­ments, you do feel you’ve escaped from the world for how­ev­er brief a time.

blue guitar

The event works like this: artists per­form either in the church itself, with the audi­ence sit­ting in the pews, or down­stairs where there’s a large hall, set with tables with tables and chairs, and can­dles twin­kling on the tables. While you watch one act upstairs, the next will be set­ting up at the same time down­stairs. This way there’s very lit­tle over­lap, mean­ing you can get to see most, if not all, the per­form­ers and not expe­ri­ence that feel­ing of angst over who you might have to miss. There’s a lit­tle cafe too, serv­ing cof­fee and wine; food-wise it’s pri­mar­i­ly a sausage-fest, to use the term in its lit­er­al sense, with hot dogs and a vari­ety of arti­san sausage rolls.

First per­former of the day is alt-folk Dusty Stray from Ams­ter­dam, with a reper­toire of beau­ti­ful songs. Apart from his own sooth­ing vocals, he can also reach a quite unex­pect­ed Neil Young-sound­ing falset­to. He is an inspir­ing start to the event. Down­stairs we catch a set by Paul Arm­field – an impos­ing fig­ure with a beard to put the aver­age hip­ster to shame. A vet­er­an of the music busi­ness, Paul is utter­ly engag­ing, mix­ing amus­ing sto­ries about ‘life on the road’ with his poet­ic and heart­felt songs, accom­pa­nied by gui­tar and musi­cal saw. Mid­way through his set, Paul gives us the choice of a song by Jacques Brel, The Clash or Katy Per­ry. The Clash are the win­ners. As a res­i­dent of the Isle of Wight, where he owns a book shop, Paul’s last song is a sea­far­ing tale – of sorts – about catch­ing the last fer­ry home.

Aaron Fyfe, a young Glaswe­gian singer-song­writer, per­formed recent­ly at Howard Monk’s The End fes­ti­val in Crouch End, where he won over the audi­ence not just with his tal­ent, but also with his amus­ing ban­ter and boy­ish charm. Aaron deliv­ers an ener­getic per­for­mance, a one-man force with a haunt­ing­ly soul­ful voice, adept at shift­ing from whis­per to soar­ing. Aaron is an extreme­ly hard­work­ing, hard-gig­ging guy with a peri­patet­ic approach to life, on a Dylaneque ‘nev­er end­ing tour’ so hope­ful­ly he’ll be back this way to play again sometime.

Shh Aaron Fyfe
Aaron Fyfe

It was­n’t an aus­pi­cious start to Hel­mut’s set. He has some trou­ble with his loop ped­al which he thinks is bro­ken and he’s con­cerned about the mix being off bal­ance. Not that the audi­ence either notice any­thing wrong, or care. Hel­mut pro­duces a tight set of lengthy elec­tro-indie num­bers which build, shift and creep up on you. It’s the clos­est that some of us among this qui­et audi­ence come to get­ting onto our feet and danc­ing. There’s dis­may when he announces the final num­ber and the applause is deserved­ly rap­tur­ous and, dare I say it, loud.

De'borah at Shhh
De’b­o­rah at Shhh

Since the fes­ti­val end­ed I’ve been lis­ten­ing to a few of the artists we saw: Aji­mal (that’s his gui­tar, top) whose pure and intense vocal deliv­ery is shot through with melan­cho­lia. Also the first group in the line­up, Forced Ran­dom, whose fuzzy sound­scapes grad­u­al­ly work their mag­ic and fill the church up to the rafters. And De’b­o­rah – a singer song­writer who ful­ly deserves the praise she’s been get­ting recent­ly from sta­tions such as Radio 6 Music.

What made SHHH so appeal­ing was the wide-rang­ing style of artists, many of whom expressed their plea­sure at being able to play before a qui­et and atten­tive crowd. It was equal­ly pos­i­tive from our side of the fence too, not hav­ing to lis­ten to some­one nat­ter to their mate about their lat­est Top­Shop pur­chase. The mel­low can­dlelit inte­ri­or of the church con­tributed to a warm and calm atmos­phere. Alto­geth­er, a very dif­fer­ent and enjoy­able expe­ri­ence for any­one feel­ing a bit fes­ti­val-deprived dur­ing the cold win­ter months.

Shh Forcedrandom
Forced Ran­dom

WHO: SHHH Qui­et Music Festival
WHEN: Sat­ur­day Jan­u­ary 31, 2014
WHERE: Heath Street Bap­tist Church London

2 thoughts on “Review: SHHH quiet music festival in Hampstead

  1. Pingback: Two London gigs and a festival for autumn | Gourmet gigs
  2. Pingback: The End Festival: 12 days of music - Gourmet gigs

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