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