Last night Trembling Bells took us on an acid trip through Britain’s druidic ruins, via merry England’s maypoles and onto the modern dystopia of Glasgow and London, all the while remaining firmly rooted inside their early-prog, hippie campervan.
Drummer and songwriter, Alex Neilson, founded Trembling Bells back in 2008 and they have since released five albums as well as collaborating with many well-known names including Bonnie Prince Billie and Mike Heron of original 60s folk revival band, The Incredible String Band.
The Bells’ latest album, The Sovereign Self, was the source of most of the set last night: a psychedelic, sometimes frenetic album that adopts more prog and guitar rock influences than previous albums, perhaps because the band now has two guitars playing off each other.
Live, however, there is a more powerful wall of sound and greater sense of exploration than in the recording. This may be down to Alex Neilson’s freeform style of drumming, akin to jazz drumming, with seemingly improvised fills.
It is also very likely down to singer, keyboardist and guitarist Lavinia Blackwall, who makes the live performance something else. Her voice, not dissimilar to Jefferson Airplane’s Grace Slick’s echoing and intense vocals, really embeds the band in its 60s folk revival roots.
The whole group locks together really well and slip, as one, down the rabbit hole, both creating and inhabiting their own version of twisted folk psychedelia on stage.
Speaking of Oxford, support was provided by Jackie Oates and Megan Henwood, whose voices blended beautifully. A much simpler, acoustic folk set, the two played a mixture of original songs, covers and traditional folk, with a cover of Brian Bedford’s ‘What’s the Use of Wings’ standing out in particular.
But back to the Trembling Bells, who, by coincidence, our friends had Wagamama-ed alongside before the gig. The Bells were easy to spot with their long tassels, felt hats and definitely-not-hipster beards: the image of them on stage wouldn’t have been out of place in Jenny’s acid phase in Forrest Gump.
Last night, life was less a box of chocolates and more a box of dark humour, ritualistic beats and macabre folk trips. Far out.