Albert af Ekenstam unceremoniously wandered up to the mic, as the chatter of the crowd dimmed and the couple next to me took their last sip of tea. The Swedish singer-songwriter found his mark under the large rose window, in front of the pulpit that dominates the stage at the Union Chapel.
Armed with only his acoustic guitar, Ekenstam’s presentation made it look as if he wouldn’t be able to do his ethereal and dreamy catalogue justice; a fear that was swiftly dashed when he showed off the deep timbre of his voice in the opener, “Ashes”.
The church was only half-filled with warm bodies and the persistent cold – emanating from the centuries’ old stone floor – meant Ekenstam was regularly pausing between songs to tune his guitar.
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The haunting ballad, “Made of Gold”, was the highlight of the set and lent itself well to the church’s dramatic architecture – complete with a fifty metre high ceiling – even though it was lacking the stirring symbol rushes and piano that appear on the recording.
That was the story of this short showcase: a songwriter with a rich voice singing a familiar brand of Scandinavian acoustic indie – that bears some similarity to Tallest Man On Earth and José González – without the band that would have made the gig magical.
He finished with the mournful “Angel Liz”; thanked the crowd; and was off-stage within half-an-hour. Leaving much of the audience, which largely belonged to the headliner – Ben Caplan & The Casual Smokers – with a new artist to follow.
For a singer-songwriter with only an acoustic guitar, his voice and a nineteenth century gothic church, Ekenstam’s performance was memorable enough for audience members to eagerly await his return to London with a full band.