Snowpoet, our modern day sirens

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Ella Gryf-Lowczowska reviews Snowpoet's performance of uncensored velvet lyricism.

Over its lifetime, Colston Hall has hosted its fair share of 'the greats', from Louis Armstrong to Jimi Hendrix, Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington, to Ella Fitzgerald and more. In life, all good things really must come to an end, so that end may as well be spectacular. The world-renowned venue bid farewell to its city this weekend with its sixth annual Bristol Jazz and Blues Festival, and in typical Bristolian fashion, the festival saw tradition embrace with the unconventional.

'in typical Bristolian fashion, the festival saw tradition embrace with the unconventional'

A 30-piece jazz-funk orchestra performing the score to Cult Fiction!, a 16-piece ensemble improvising the entirety of Hendrix’s 1968 album Electric Ladyland and Acid Jazz in the O2 Academy were just three of the forty performances at this swinging affair, which certainly did justice to the eclectic mix of the genre.

Hailing from the camp of the unconventional are Snowpoet, a London sextet led by Jazz FM Vocalist of the Year (2016) Lauren Kinsella and composer and multi-instrumentalist Chris Hyson. The band combine melody and poetry to create a sound that could be compared to artists such as Björk or Toni Mitchell, if it weren’t more intimately delicate; and lyrics inspired by Sylvia Plath, W.B. Yeats and Philip Larkin, only more relatable. Sitting in on their performance in The Lantern feels like being a voyeur in the psyche of a formerly-heartbroken soul.

'sitting in on their performance in The Lantern feels like being a voyeur in the psyche of a formerly-heartbroken soul'

The setting is simple - commercial junk is alien to these modest songwriters in shirts, beanies and converse trainers. Standing centre stage in a plain denim dress is Lauren who waits, eyes lowered, her vision seemingly turned inwards. One simple clip holds Lauren’s blonde hair away from her face, so that her ethereal voice may flow unto us. Keeping the small-talk to a minimum, Snowpoet perform a seamless run through material from their new album Thought You Knew. The album is a genre-fluid blend of jazz, folk and creative pop which charts the tale of a tormented love affair.

Lauren’s velvety jazz vocals are beautifully juxtaposed to the raw, uncensored emotion in the hook-laden lyricism. Like the song of a siren, her high notes pierce through the atmosphere, ricochet along the ceiling and run through the carpet to possess us.

'a sound that could be compared to artists such as Björk or Toni Mitchell, if it weren’t more intimately delicate'

True to her Irish roots and the tradition of the pastoral, the theme of nature recurs in Lauren’s lyrics, hence many of the tracks feature field recordings: fragments of birdsong, the patter of rain and the murmur of wind, which melt into the gently picked chords and the piano. In fact, the subtle, sweet exchanges between the band members demonstrate how finely attuned they are to one another.

When time runs out Lauren asks the audience to come and say hello afterwards, and then Snowpoet ignore the rules and launch into their next three tracks. Amazingly, this time, when Irish Adele (aka Lauren) opens her mouth, what comes out is essentially rap. 'It’s Already Better Than Okay' is a spoken-word song about a girl muddling through advice and instinct, featuring a folksy saxophone and some pure poetry:

‘I believe in pain oh how cathartic the process//I believe in sadness and desolation because what comes out is the truth//I’ve been trying to separate my head and my heart//and constantly failing but I’m failing better at what’s next’.

In interview afterwards, Lauren is completely genuine. She speaks of how she dislikes labels and she refers to her lyrics as ‘text’, though most critics call it poetry. Lauren writes about her experiences, the lyrics are her story. Her introspection is supplemented by Chris, who once described his role as being ‘like colouring in’, adding musical context to Kinsella’s lyrics, before giving free musical reign to the rest of the group.

The two met whilst they were completing their Masters at The Royal Academy and their musical alliance has gone from strength to strength ever since, proof that London’s distinctively innovative jazz scene is alive and thriving.

'her high notes pierce through the atmosphere, ricochet along the ceiling and run through the carpet to possess us'

Snowpoet are currently mid-tour: they will be performing across the UK and Ireland until 12 May, so there is still time to catch these avant-garde jazz musicians whilst you can!

(Featured image: Unsplash / Jakub Kriz)


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