Tender is just the right word for this talented trio’s latest album: it is both nurturing and raw, a sensitive response to the times we are living in. So it felt oddly fitting to be experiencing it for the first time in a darkened church, with an air of reverential reflection established from the outset. Sometimes new material kills a live gig flat - I’m thinking of certain much-loved 90s bands who’ve subjected loyal fans to two hours of bitter divorce ballads with minimal musical gains. But tonight we got all the ingredients that make the Maiseries so enjoyable (gorgeous vocal harmonies, astute song choices, inventive arrangements), plus a real sense that their new tunes have purpose. This was the sound of a band wielding their capabilities for the good of all - and blasting through any lingering stereotypes that frame the domain of female folk singing as fair maidens, meadows and missing men.
Tender’s focus on original songwriting gave the evening an intimate air, as though we were privy to the diary entries and preoccupations of the band’s individual lockdown trials. I was particularly moved by Hannah James’ Echoes - written to acknowledge the complexity of losing a loved one to the muddle of dementia at a time when in-person visits to care homes were banned. Something many people went through, but still barely articulated in the common consciousness. Rowan Rheingans’ title track, Tender, took me back to those strange moments over the last few years when life seemed to be both scrambled and slow, when it felt like mundane moments held a vital new potency - tiny cradles of celebration, nurturing love for each other and for simply being alive. Hazel Askew’s Bird I Do Not Know continued that theme - it felt like a tribute to finding your way through confusing times by allowing yourself to notice what might have otherwise passed you by, whether that’s inward insight or details of the world around you. That said, Tender is not ‘a lockdown album’ - elsewhere the band explore everything from the life of a climate scientist mother to the power of the many brilliant (but often unrecognised) women who’ve forged better things for us all.
We were also treated to fabulous interpretations of songs by the likes of Björk, Tracy Chapman and Lal Waterson. Each came with a highly personal energy - from the tension between the freedoms and dangers present in Chapman’s 3000 Miles to the powerful female force coursing through Waterson’s Child Among the Weeds. The combination of harmony singing and stripped back yet deliciously complex ‘body percussion’ of their take on Björk’s Hyperballad was spellbinding - and I found myself thinking ‘bring on a Maiseries’ Björk covers set’ (I’d particularly love to hear them sing Human Behaviour and Army of Me).
It feels important to note that all this vocal brilliance was underpinned by their abilities as imaginative, precise and fluid multi-instrumentalists. Anyone seeking musical inspiration was spoilt for choice: I overheard at least one audience member considering taking up the harmonium, and it was great to see tune books for sale alongside CDs and download options. I think a sign of a great gig is when the audience head off wanting to keep the music going in their lives - and tonight was a great reminder that we really do need song-crafters who rise to the times they are living through. A great big hug of an album, Tender is one to catch live if you can.
Lady Maisery are currently touring the UK. Find out more at: https://www.ladymaisery.com