Liverpool Music Week : 20 Years of Bella Union – Leaf on Bold Street, UK (30th October 2017)

One of the most important independent British labels around, Bella Union was founded in 1997 by Cocteau Twins bassist Simon Raymonde and guitarist Robin Guthrie as a way to release their music after spending most of their career on 4AD. Despite the band splitting soon after, they decided to keep the label going by releasing the work of other artists.

When Guthrie departed for France in 2000 to focus on his own music, Raymonde took sole charge of the label. Having released albums by artists such as Fleet Foxes, Father John Misty, Beach House, John Grant and Ezra Furman, among many others, in the space of two decades Raymonde has turned Bella Union into one of the most respected indie labels on the planet.

The label celebrated its 10th anniversary with two nights at the Royal Festival Hall in 2007, and their 15th by curating an entire day at End of the Road in 2012. Now on its 20th birthday, Bella Union brought their celebrations to Leaf on Bold Street on the fifth night of Liverpool Music Week for a debut performance of founder Simon Raymonde’s new band Lost Horizons.

Hilang Child got the evening underway with a performance that was full of heart and soul. Mixing piano and synth ballads with powerful vocals, his sound was perfectly suited to what was a cold autumn night. The London-based solo artist with Welsh and Indonesian roots would make a welcome return to the stage later in the evening, but for half an hour the room was all his. Genuinely grateful that everyone had come out early to catch his set, he’ll be back out on the road for a mini-tour in late November and is currently working on releasing debut which should arrive sometime next year.

New Jersey-via-Manchester multi-instrumentalist BC Camplight, the alter-ego of a burly and slightly poorly Brian Christinzio, warmed the stage up nicely for the headline act with a mix of audience interaction and piano ballads led by his Brian Wilson-like vocals. The critically acclaimed psych pop artist moved to Manchester back in 2011 and credits the decision with saving his life. In between songs, which included debuting one about his dog, he lightened the mood with great humour which largely revolved around recurring dreams he’d been having about shrimp.

Being their debut performance, it was hard to know exactly what to expect from Lost Horizons. Apart from a hanful of songs available online, we know their upcoming debut album ‘Ojalá’ (Spanish for ‘hopefully’ or ‘God willing’) features a host of guest vocalists. However, it was always unlikely that they were going to bring the likes of Marissa Nadler, former Midlake frontman Tim Smith and Ghostpoet in the car on the trip up from Brighton with them.

When a seven-piece ensemble appeared on stage you knew something special was about to take place. Featuring three incredible vocalists, that included a returning Hilang Child among them, several piano synths and a bassist, with the two main men Simon Raymonde and Richie Thomas driving things along at the back of the stage on guitar and drums.

Not only was this a celebration of 20 years of Bella Union, it was also the first time Raymonde and his friend Thomas (former drummer of early post-rock quartet Dif Juz) had performed live in a very long time too. But having been collaborators since the 1980s (both Cocteau Twins and Dif Juz were signed to 4AD), the chemistry between them runs very deep indeed.

It was a incredible 60-minute performance that featured a perfect blend of expansive and dreamlike sounds. There’s a great emotional depth to their music, with the melancholia that informed both artists past work still very much present in tracks such as the sublime ‘The Places We’ve Been’ and gorgeous ‘Bones’. With their debut album ‘Ojalá’ available from Friday 3rd November, you can be sure that many of those who witnessed their maiden performance will among the first to pick up a copy.