Penelope Isles – The Live Rooms, Chester, UK (29th January 2020)

Raised on the Isle of Man, siblings Jack and Lily Wolter have been writing songs and playing in various bands together since their teens. Most notable among them have been Tiger Years and Your Gold Teeth, where they both played alongside the talented Brian Brough.

With an age difference between them of six years they would spend some time apart while they both attended university in the south of England. Jack headed off to Falmouth, while Lily went to Brighton where she would later be joined by her brother.

Named after their mother, they would form Penelope Isles in 2015 and they haven’t looked back since. Made up of Jack Sowton drums and Becky Redford on bass/guitar, with Jack on guitar/vocals, and Lily on bass/guitar/keys/vocals, they soon put out their unofficial debut Comfortably Swell before catching the ear of Bella Union while performing locally.

Ran by former Cocteau Twin bassist Simon Raymonde for over 20 years, the Brighton-based label has put out some of the best indie albums of the 2000’s. Releasing records by the likes of Beach House, Fleet Foxes, Midlake, John Grant and Father John Misty over the years, Penelope Isles couldn’t have found a better home.

Their official debut Until the Tide Creeps In was released last summer to much acclaim. Featuring an old photo of their father on its cover with arms up in celebration after building a sandcastle, family and their lives growing up by sea in the Isle of Man, Cornwall and Brighton heavily influence their overall style.

It’s been pretty much non-stop for the four-piece over the past 12 months, with tours across both Europe and United States in addition to playing up and down the UK. Their hectic touring schedule has certainly helped them to hone their live performances as they are even better each time you see them play.

Visiting Chester for the very first time, Penelope Isles stopped by the former Roman city as part of Independent Venue Week (IVW). Supported by BBC Sounds, 6 Music and the Arts Council, IVW is a 7-day celebration of independent venues around the UK that serve as the backbone of Britain’s live music scene.

They kicked off their Chester debut with the unfamiliar ‘Sailing Still’, a slow-burning opener which we could hear again one day on a planned follow-up album. Cheers were heard as the opening chords to ‘Chlorine’ began, the summery radio hit has been described by 6 Music host Sean Keaveney as “one of the songs of the age” and it’s hard to argue with that.

This was followed by fan favourite ‘Cut Your Hair’ with its wonderfully creeping bassline and its Grizzly Bear vs Deerhunter style, and then the psychedelic-tinged sweetness of ‘Underwater Record Store’ which saw Lily take over from Jack on vocals (one of a number of tracks that she penned).

After giving us another potential taste of their next album in the form of ‘In a Cage’, the second half of their set began with back-to-back performances of two of their four singles. First up was the superb Lily-led, fuzz pop of ‘Leipzig’, with Jack taking over on vocals for the more jangly ‘Round’ (a track which is partly reminiscent of Magic Magic, one of the great lost bands of the 2000’s).

The influence of Microcastle-era Deerhunter looms large on ‘Not Talking’, its languid guitar and fragile vocals showcasing their sleepier side. Approaching the end of the night they cranked up the noise for an extended version of the driving ‘Gnarbone’, before going one better on the set closer ‘Three’ which grew to reach Mogwai levels of epicness.

Until The Tide Creeps In is available now via Bella Union

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