Zoe Graham at Celtic Connections (supported by John Edge & The Kings of Nowhere)

Zoe Graham played at King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut’s intimate venue space in front of an adoring crowd on January 24. Its stage has hosted many massive acts, like Snow Patrol and Radiohead, but Zoe has lived up to the pedigree.

The concert was part of the Celtic Connections festival, Scotland’s wintertime festival which celebrates Scottish music & musicians.

Spread across Scotland’s largest city, Glasgow, it invites musicians from around the globe and attracts thousands of visitors which pack the city’s most spectacular venues, attending concerts, ceilidhs, art exhibitions and much more.

It can occasionally tend towards the old-fashioned, but Thursday night’s show was evidence that Celtic Connections is very much moving with the times.

John Edge & The Kings Of Nowhere opened for Zoe Graham and their genre-defying melodies are a perfect example of Celtic Connection’s modernisation.

The band self-describes its music as “folk musings” but that doesn’t really scratch the surface. The Scottish highlands musicians manage to be multi-layered yet superbly smooth, bringing to life their Celtic roots.

John Edge as a band could be compared to Scottish synthpop band Prides, except they’ve torn out all the keyboard and autotune and fired about three acoustic guitars in its place — that’s John Edge’s sound.

However, at times they over-relied on this sound. It’s good, but they may have gotten in the habit of repeating themselves, and end up sounding a little repetitive on occasion.

The music somehow manages to roll over the crowd like a physical thing — this is maybe where the patriotic vibe comes from, with their tunes emulating the landscape.

But that’s a deeply pretentious description of a deeply unpretentious band. The five musicians on stage have obviously known each other a while, and if not, they get on well enough that they enjoy the mere act of playing alongside each other. The jokes between songs, the natural smiles and banter, all point to the bond these five artists share — something which is invaluable to smaller artists trying to make their reputation. John Edge & the Kings of Nowhere have the advantage being a five-piece band. When you are a solo artist, however you have to work a little harder to create a atmosphere around you.

Zoe Graham does this with ease.

Zoe — a fairly short 21-year-old Weegie gal with a great big guitar — shows appearances are deceiving and easily fills the rooms with her presence.

As well as a great big guitar, she brought with her a great big voice: clear, slightly accented, somewhat ethereal. It’s a voice that makes her recorded singles sound personal and emotional (they’re available on Spotify in case you don’t believe me) but her live performances change the nature of her music, becoming a bit less emotional and even more powerful. It’s definitely music that makes you will make you sit up and listen.

I’ve reviewed Zoe before, when she was performing solo. It’s all very slow, very moving, and a little melancholic. This time, backed by several musicians, the difference is startling. Personally, I’d call it an improvement.

The emotion that disappears from the softer songs changes them into these big powerful room-filling anthems — Industrial Strength, which on record is a quirky little tune, got completely turned on its head. The core of the songs remains the same though — Zoe’s songs all have a synthy soul, all very indie.

She returned to her solo portfolio for a few last songs — and for an artist of her size, getting called on for an encore is pretty nuts — for which she played Anniesland Lights. This last moment reflected the girl’s range — her last song, a track called Know By Now, had this big rock-on drum-solo finish. But for the encore, she returned to break hearts with her soft little ballad.

I have big hopes for Zoe Graham. Her music, her lyrics, her chat on-stage are all so refined and full of personality. If nothing else, she’s a unique character. Definitely one to keep an eye on.

John Edge & The Kings of Nowhere have plenty songs on their Youtube and a few on Spotify, and you can keep an eye on their Facebook and Instagram (@johnedge_thekings) for news of their forthcoming album. You can find a link Zoe Graham’s Spotify in the article, her Youtube is here, and check out her Facebook and Instagram (@iamzoegraham) to keep up with her gigs and future releases.

 

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