This ‘Syd Arthur’ review was written by Bethany Roberts, a GIGsoup contributor

It’s a hot, muggy night in central Bristol, and the air inside the dark, busy Exchange feels positively tropical. Stroud natives Hot Feet open the night, and after a slightly tentative start it doesn’t take long to win over the crowd with their tantalisingly gutsy folk sound. Frontwoman Marianne Parrish’s gorgeous vocals are hard to pin down – as is the band’s overall sound – and at times she floats above the fingerpicked guitar lines, but elsewhere she roots the music deeply with a stomping rock flair, pulling the music around her and pushing it out to the audience with an uncompromising determination. The band’s expansive textures tell a story, and the modal harmony present in many of their songs conjures Albion images of meadows and strange forests, but it’s cut with an edge of blues that keeps it free of sentimentality.

Well-respected Kent 4-piece Syd Arthur come onstage to loud cheers. They’re listed as psychedelic jazz but really, it’s straight up psych rock with some interesting layers of jazzy folk. There is a familiar and oddly teenage thrill (not felt for many months anyway during the festival season) from standing on the slightly sticky floor of a dark and intimate bar venue, holding a cold pint and looking up at a guitarist from the front of the crowd, waiting to be energised and lifted by the raw drive of a Rock Band. And it certainly is raw and energetic.

Opening with well-known crowd-pleaser ‘Ode To The Summer’, they dive immediately into the spiralling, psychedelic textures for which they are known. Frustratingly, the sound isn’t quite right at the beginning of the gig – and remains unresolved throughout. The vocals just aren’t loud enough to compete with the dominating guitar and drums, and it becomes even more annoying as frontman Liam Magill’s poetic lyrics – one of the best elements of their sound – are continually lost within the instrumental texture. Otherwise, the set is great, and they perform for 90 minutes offering new tunes as well as better known tunes from their last two albums, speaking little between the songs and moving quickly onto the next.

Long locks of hair swing into each musicians’ eyes as they bounce through the set, and naturally the audience bounce along with them. Their rhythmic playfulness is mesmerising – keeping the enthusiastically grooving audience on their toes as the band’s unusual metric patterns unfold. Multi-instrumentalist Raven Bush adds a particular dash of cool playing not just violin and keyboard but electric mandolin too, complementing the intricate wailing of Magill’s electric guitar and helping the band’s sonic palate to keep evolving throughout the set. Again, better sound would have have helped the different layers to stand out a bit more, but the colour of the each instrument comes through nonetheless.

In all, it’s a really good gig and their energy, excellent songwriting and fiery commitment to delivery definitely recommend them for a second appraisal.

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LIVE MUSIC : Syd Arthur – Exchange, Bristol (20th August 2015)

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