Feature: Belles Will Ring

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I encountered who could quite possibly my favourite Sydney band, Belles Will Ring way back in 2006 when they opened for Death Cab For Cutie. I walked in pumped to see Transatlanticism unfold before my ears and eyes, but was completely carried away by the beautiful sounds of psychedelia washing over me. It was unlike anything I’d ever heard before – a gorgeous thing that seemed to restore my faith in the Sydney music scene. The way the chords and sounds just seemed to wash over the crowd, floating softly in small lush fragments on air.

Anyhoo, I got the opportunity to interview the lead singer Liam Judson about the writing process, and the songs they were looking to unleash with their new album (which they’re currently working on). As music editor of Vibewire, I banged it up here. Also accessible below..



Belles Will Ring released an exquisite slowburn of retro psychedelic sounds to critical acclaim last year with their debut Mood Patterns. Liam Judson sat down to discuss the band’s upcoming show and writing for the new album.

Belles Will Ring entered the Sydney music scene like the proverbial slivers of sun on a dreary rain-drenched afternoon. At a time when the aural landscape felt saturated by electro beats and 80s disco revival, the Blue Mountains band offered some purer retrospect via simple melodies and refreshing though oddly seductive psychedelia. The fact that it’s barely been two years since the band started out is hard to fathom, especially considering the release of their debut LP within their first year of existence.

“Things happened for us really quickly, which was great, and that was one of the things that people would always point out,” says Liam Judson, lead singer and guitarist. “They’d say ‘oh Belles Will Ring, they’re so fresh, they’re so new, they’ve only been around for x amount of months or so’, and that kind of thing always sort of follows you around. But then you think, there’s absolutely nothing new about us anymore. We’re totally old, right now.”

There’s a self-deprecating quality to the band despite their serious pursuit of music. The bespectacled Liam in particular has a tendency to find things to keep his hands busy as we talk on a quiet night at The Annandale. The earnestness about the new record and the stuff that inspires the band is tangible in the way he talks and the much-loved sounds of Mood Patterns.

“A lot of people said it was really retro and all, and I understand that. There’s no hiding the fact that we’ve taken a lot of inspiration from a lot sounds over the late 60s,” he concedes. “But I like to think that [our music] is the sound of modern music.”

He appears adamant in making the distinction between old and new, as we start talking about new bands. “I sort of get freaked out by bands who do 60s bands really well,” he says, a sense of quiet observation in his tone. “They even do the suits and sort of mod haircuts, and everything is just so spot on, that it’s all kitsch, and you wonder how really relevant it is.”

When asked if there’s any pressure to live up to the first album and the prospect of suffering “second album syndrome”, Liam shakes his head.

“I’ve never felt the need to think, ‘oh how does this compare to Mood Patterns’. I haven’t even listened to Mood Patterns for a while,” he says. “And if I was freaked out about it, I would probably try to be infused from what I should do. If we like it, then there’s a good chance that a whole bunch of other people will like it, cuz you know, we’re not that weird.” He pauses. “I like to think we’re not, I know we are fairly strange people.”

With a new single looking to be released by the year’s end, Liam and fellow band mate Aidan Roberts have been holed up in the Mountains region for the past few months writing new songs. With recording being done in various rooms in his folks’ house, we can expect similar Belles’ compositions, more distinct highs and lows and “hopefully, it’s less ‘oh it’s a retro record’.”

“It’s not gonna freak people out, though it is a bit of a left turn,” Liam says of the new sound. “It’s probably a bit more varied in a sense that it’s different to Mood Patterns, it goes to more extremes. The first one has a kind of walking tempo to the whole thing, it was crusier, whereas this one is probably a bit more severe and it probably a bit softer too.”

The song-writing process doesn’t seem to have been entirely difficult, with old songs being brought out from the dusty memory banks pre-debut, and new ones being written moments before recording sessions. That said, Liam admits to having rather few recollections of the writing process.

“Who knows where the songs come from,” he says, fiddling with my tape recorder. “I don’t know where I write them, how I write them. They just end up there. I have no memory of writing them.” He takes a moment to consider the previous record. “I sort of remember writing Coldest Heart, sort of. It was in a particular room in my folks’ house in the mountains, and I thought that’s a great tune.”

With their live shows, audiences familiar with the original five-piece line up will notice the absence of one particular keyboardist, Jacqui Schlender. Liam says that just like any band, “we just had to split apart for several reasons – it’s not a big thing. That was Belles Will Ring then, this is Belles Will Ring now.” This definitely hasn’t affected live performances, as recent reviews have continually lauded. It’s all a case of keeping it “fresh” and new as they quietly permeate the live music scene.

“Some songs, we probably don’t play as much now because there were songs we playing a whole lot when you first start out, but the beauty of that is that when you stop playing it for like six months, and then you just think, ‘yeah let’s pull this out’, and it’s the freshest thing you could do.”

Belles Will Ring seem to have mastered the pleasing bridge between old and new, melding it to create the sound of a retro-futurist. Going by the success of their live shows and the melodies that seem to induce sporadic skipping through meadows, the band have definitely created an intriguing niche.

“What we’re always trying to do is to create music that just totally surrounds. We want the sound to be kind of dancing around you.”

St Jerome’s Laneway Festival (02.03.08)

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So I went to what will hopefully be my last gig for a long time on Sunday (I seriously need rehab for my full-blown gig addiction) – St Jerome’s Laneway Festival was splendid! There should be more micro-gigs in Australia where independent and unsigned bands are given its own prime space for the year. That said, there have been a rather ridiculous amount of festivals coming through in recent years: Future Music, Parklife, Good Vibrations, V Festival, and that’s all on top of the annual Big Day Out, Homebake, and inaugural Splendour In The Grass (for which tickets are freakin’ impossible to get!). It seems that jmag got it right with their latest issue – “electro is killing pub gigs”.

But it’s not just electro – music itself seems to be moving in the digital direction, as downloads of both the illegal and legal kind taking its toll on CD and record sales, thereby significantly reducing the average income for musos. So really, what choice do they have other than to tour, and tour often. Not that I’m complaining – the microbyted quality of an mp3 is nothing compared to the atmosphere at a live gig. And what better way to sample all of this mind-blowing music than via a festival. The only thing you have to worry about is time clashes like Gotye being on at the same time as The Presets and The Brunettes, or Broken Social Scene being on at the same time as Dan Deacon – clashes of which I fiercely shake my fist to.

Anyhoo, below is a gig review I drummed up for Sunday’s glorious event. I submitted it to FasterLouder, but it didn’t get published because the editor of The Brag (Elmo Keep) got in first. Grrr..

Photos are on my Facebook by the way! And there are a gazillion if you look them up on Flickr.


St Jerome’s Laneway Festival

Circular Quay, Sydney


With the onslaught of music festivals in recent years, St Jerome’s Laneway Festival is a little ray of sunshine in a darkened alley of otherwise mind-numbing genres. Indeed, the clouds threatened a downpour as punters rocked up in their decidedly individualist garb – flannel shirts and wayfarer sunnies in equal parts please.

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But no matter, the sun proved its staying power and was cheerfully helped along by the power pop sounds of a suit-wearing trio. Performing to a handful of early Sunday morning risers on the stage closest to the entrance, The Basics gave a charmingly observed set as the first act of the day. Wally de Backer, a.k.a. Gotye sat hidden in the back, possibly to give his long time band mates Tim Heath and Kris Schroeder some time in the spotlight. Despite their shining tunes, it was clear that Wally quietly outshone his crew with his stunning vocals and mild drummer gymnastics, the drum kit left shaking from his beats.

Ghostwood have been playing the live scene for a good 18 months, and their punk rock drawl often brings a fairly strong crowd to their shows, curious onlookers included. That said, they did little to maximise the laneway space of Reiby Place to their potential and left a promising sound quite unfulfilled. On a similar plane, there followed The Devastations who unfurled their own brand of moody rock to a politely intrigued crowd. Unfortunately, I wasn’t intrigued enough so it was back to the Park Stage for some swing dancing via Little Red.

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The Melbourne boys of Little Red continued the do-wopping trend set by The Basics as they filled the canopied area with sweet tunes of holding hands and monogamous relationships. With the joyous fizzy dream of an ice cream soda, their marriage of The Kinks ’ pop-rocks and Beach Boys groove sent a growing crowd to partake in their own brand of toe-tapping, though their rock star swagger and throbbing bass lines provided a curious sexual lining to their otherwise innocent personas.

Indeed, the Laneway Festival provides a platform for new and upcoming bands to strut their stuff to a smorgasboard of indie enthusiasts where music tastes are as diverse as they are intriguing. Perhaps the most curiosity-driven crowd arrived when Manchester Orchestra took the Reiby Place stage, and with a name as poetic as that, one almost expects a string ensemble to join their otherwise tempered rock. With vocals reminiscent of Placebo, Manchester Orchestra gave Sydney a solid performance to their music on the back of their, ahem, virgin record, I’m Like A Virgin Losing A Child. The crowd threw appreciative applause as lead singer Andy Hull bestowed his pleasantries on them to see his band.

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From there, this reviewer inched back towards the Park Stage with sausage and notepad in tow to witness emerging Australian darlings The Panics. The sheer volume of the crowd became apparent as the path to the front barrier was quickly obstructed by devoted fans sitting put and staking their claim to the popular stage. The Panics are quickly becoming infused into the Australian music psyche, not unlike the lads of You Am I. With a third album firmly latched under their well-worn belts, The Panics launched into the oh-so-familiar tracks from A House on a Street in a Town I’m From, and Sleeps Like A Curse. A faulty keyboard threw off their performance with a “ghostly” jarring to their otherwise melodramatic blend of rock and psychedelia. As the stage crew attempted to replace the keyboard with what sounded like a second faulty one, lead singer Jae Laffer unleashed a torrent of F-bombs, a testimony to his admission that he doesn’t “work well under stress”. But worry not, for all was forgotten as guitarist Julian Douglas led an arm waving of support as the familiar opening chords of Don’t Fight It filled our ears. Technical glitches cut the set short, but the adoring crowd really couldn’t give a flying fuck – pleasing is as pleasing does.

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Soon after, Stars blended dreamy pop tunes with the ever-melodious Torquil Campbell. The trees lining the area provided a fitting atmosphere for the stronghold of fans – one girl sang along word perfect to each and every one of their musical offerings. Amy Millan stuck a decided brash rock chick persona, her part balanced by Torquil’s exuberant singing and clapping – an action that’s seemingly become a crucial part of indie pop. Indeed, the fun was just beginning as Torquil introduced a song about “fucking someone to death” with a well-observed Australian accent, providing a violently prosaic tinge to their set with One More Night (Your Ex-Lover Remains Dead).

A last minute change and clash to the timetable meant there was no way I was forgoing the next band for Dan Deacon, no matter how amazing people say he is. Kevin Drew emerged with the ever-expansive Broken Social Scene. To say that this band is a supergroup is a profound understatement. There is definitely something brewing in those Canadian waters – the sheer quality of musicians coming out of that place over the past few years is mind-blowing, and Broken Social Scene are no exception. If you thought their gorgeous layers of orchestral joy and guitar noise was splendid on CD, then seeing them play it live is like a whole new revelation.

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Opening to the chorus of audience anticipation, the band dallied across the stage, their fingers articulated in concentration. Stars And Sons provided the first high of the set as Leslie Feist , Stars, and a slew of other members clapped their way into the hearts of an already adoring crowd before skipping off to the sidelines, their figures still visibly dancing. 7/4 (Shoreline) was another highlight as Feist gave us another reason to love her wily ways amidst the stunning cacophony of brass-wielding members. Torquil came out with his trumpet and a nod to his own Australian idol via his emblazoned t-shirt – “I Miss Grant McLennan” – as the air practically hummed with euphoria.

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Part Three of the Broken Social Scene takeover of Sydney came as Leslie Feist took the stage for her solo act leaving Clap Your Hands Say Yeah to puncture her ballads and iPod passengers from the Reiby Place stage with their stellar guitar. That said, Ms Feist radiated powerful Joni Mitchell vibes as she came on stage soon after sunset with her lantern. So interchangeable she seemed that the blues guitar of Janis Joplin, the soft lilting voice of Jane Birkin, and even the brash persona of Stevie Nicks came soaring through her performances. Feist cruised through most of her latest album, jarring the spaces between songs with the odd “fuck you” to the doof-doof sounds of neighbouring stages.

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The Presets

But enough Canadian joy for tonight, as a handful of punters shuffled back to Reiby Place to catch The Presets last performance before their stint in the UK. I would’ve liked to have seen The Brunettes, but the Basement was decidedly out of bounds having reached full capacity about 3 hours previously. That said, a night with The Presets is a guaranteed night well-spent as the electro duo shot through their tracks with the precision of a dance sniper – so compelling were their beats that one really had no option but to dance. Are You The One? and My People proved the biggest hits of the night as the crowd sent St Jerome’s off to the musical ether for another year.

As the dispersing crowd headed for the exit, Gotye finished up at the Park Stage with the closing sounds of Night Drive. And so it was with the rising chorus and sheer joy of his mantra Learnalilgivinanlovin ’ that this punter headed home with gleefully imploding back muscles and a day’s worth of aural splendour.

University Observations (Rant)

This particular submission was for the first issue of UTS’ student zine Vertigo for 2008. Unfortunately it didn’t get past the editors, but whatevs – I like it anyway. The basic premise was an introduction to UTS for new students into the quirks and nuances of tertiary education. Obviously there is a fairly strong Frankie-vibe to it, but I am trying to find my ‘unique writing voice’.

I hate how speaking in abbreviations has permeated into my everyday vernacular. CBF throwing abuse at brain fart that is The Hills. Bastards.


Things You May Discover Once You Begin University

Aloha. Welcome. Now take it easy, and calm the fuck down. Please refrain from hyperventilating into a sad puddle of Ksubi jeans and cardigan cool, because more people will be laughing at you than sympathise the death of your arty pose. Chances are, these would’ve been some of the few intriguing things you’ll have discovered when you stepped foot into this architectural phallus known as UTS (it’s really not that bad). Such it is that some of these observations have been especially compiled for you complete with sub-headings and bullet points (because everyone loves a numbered article):

1. The girl-to-guy ratio is 5 to 1, at least if you’re studying Humanities. A dire situation for those in search of the requisite uni significant other (an epidemic likely to sprout amongst your school friends because look! Fresh meat!). A fair proportion of these guys will either be really, really, ridiculously good-looking, ridiculously intelligent and thus, unavailable, or good-looking, intelligent, and gay. Insert sob here. Mating choices for the straight boys will be considerably wider, in which case I’d suggest you learn to differentiate between the visually pleasing and the intellectually pleasing. In actual fact however, there isn’t really that much of a human smorgasbord to feast upon. But before this sub-heading descends into more disturbing depths, consider the possibility that you may be cavorting with the same sorts of people you’d find at your high school, just meshed together differently and at times, sartorially better. That said, should you truly find a significant other more significant than you originally thought, then kudos to you!

2. Last-minute essays are the way of the future. Most likely you will begin the semester with an overzealous approach to completing assignments weeks before they are due and earn the most votes for “Most Punctual” on Facebook – I did (am such a rebel). However, come end of semester you will be likely to descend into the pits of procrastination limbo, so don’t be surprised if you find yourself becoming one with one of the many computers at the library and twiddling your thumbs approximately 27 minutes before the assignment is due. That, and you’ll have noticed the fact that Market City is just across the road! Resistance is futile.

3. Lemons solve everything. A fruit, a core vitamin, and more multi-purpose than your average multi-purpose cleaner (including the pink grapefruit kind). This will be all you need if you’ve just moved out of home for the first time because chances are you’ll be witness to both you and your housemates’ free dump policy of the food, drink, and bodily variety. Sometimes at the same, but in different rooms or out different windows. Regardless, cleaning will be the norm. Lemons are the Swiss Army Knife of fruit because they can do everything – imported beer garnish, salad dressing extraordinaire, trusty cleaning agent. Dilution will ruin its impact, so apply to sticky, stainy surfaces raw and sliced in quarters. Add baking soda to toughen up the old geezer. Marvel. Or sue Vertigo for giving you shitty cleaning tips.

4. The Clare is your second home. Friday night drinks are normal from about week one. Most likely you’ll start off at The Loft for their excellent Happy Hours, but for a more rounded (albeit mild) overview of the university nightlife, leg it across Parramatta Road to The Clare where its vintage charm envelopes you with dumpy, comfy couches and endearingly sticky tiled walls. Home to many a drunken Engineering (and Humanities) student, this pub will hold a special place in your heart once you’ve left and graduated from your 10-year degree. It will be the place to go when you’ve finished classes on Friday (or Monday, whatever), and also the place to go when you’ve failed classes. Pat your liver as it gives a woozy smile when your alcohol tolerance rises considerably. Or not, if you balk at the mere scent of Vodka and all you drink is a fizzy concoction commonly known as lemonade. Hello designated driver.

5. All your newly discovered friends will disappear after the first week or two. So make an effort and get their contact details now to avoid despair. Or you could always stalk them on Facebook.
You play nice now, kiddies!

Explosions In The Sky (15.02.08)

explosions in the sky gig review margaret tran
I’ve always been a fan of Explosions In The Sky ever since my Last.FM player pulled them up during my early aural experiments. Being a fan of Mogwai and Sigur Rós, Explosions was right up my alley. That said, seeing them live is a whole new experience.. Intense only barely begins to describe the atmosphere of the place.

And it seems that University of Sydney’s Manning Bar is fast becoming a formidable venue in the Sydney live scene. February was without a doubt chockers with indie’s finest: Stars, Broken Social Scene, Beirut, Okkervil River, but to name a few.

explosions in the sky gig review margaret tranBroken Social Scene
Freakin’ glorious

Anyhoo, below is the gig review I did for FasterLouder. I personally think I come off as a pretentious wanker, but it’s still fairly readable. Those prog-rock/soundscapes stuff that extreme artsy types listen to can be a hit-and-miss for me sometimes..


Explosions In The Sky
Manning Bar, Sydney
15 February 2008

By expertly balancing the tender tones of Sigur Rós with My Bloody Valentine ’s sadistic brutalities, Explosions In The Sky set an obscenely high bar of expectation for the night. Their late starting time of 10.45PM and requisite support acts only served to heightened the buzz surrounding their maiden performance on our shores.

Wollongong band Ohana meandered onto the stage and unleashed a disjointed mesh of guitars and jagged wails. Indeed they seemed to aim for the punk end of this dizzying prog-rock spectrum, but lacked the energy or presence to really pull it off. The crowd threw appreciative applause, but the band struck an, at times, clichéd chord that did little to stir the senses for this reviewer.

Eluvium on the other hand, was a welcome entrée to the main event as Matthew Cooper shuffled into position. It was a varied and breathtaking experience of soundscapes punctured with conjured images of warfare and its proceeding funeral procession, the sombre piano a testimony to his years of childhood lessons. Being a one-man-band, there was the immediate difficulty in translating the lush layers of sound into a live experience. He alternated between crouching over his DAT players and crouching over his piano, a feat only forgivable by his superb compositions.

Another half hour wait preceded the main event as the crowd ambled closer to the stage. Plastic cups began to litter the carpeted floor of the university hangout, and there was a distinct buzz in the air, heavy with anticipation for the Texan aural artists. Then at last, they arrived, grins apparent on their faces above the roar of applause as they settled into position. After the announcement of the very recent birth of a friend’s baby by guitarist Munaf Rayani, a harrowing explosion (for lack of a better word) of distorted guitar by Michael James opened the set, assaulting the eardrums of those who happened to be nearest to the speakers.

Then came the soft, lilting notes that define the light and shade masterpiece that is Explosions In The Sky. Being so used to seeing microphones follow musicians like an organ extension, one becomes acutely aware that here is a band who let the music do the talking for them. Taking most of the setlist from the records The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place and the popular All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone, the band have the outrageously exacting skill of taking you on an almost cathartic journey. Never mind that you might know the songs all by heart, they somehow meld the tracks into one so that it’s impossible to tell which way you’re going to be thrown next. Many punters were standing completely still, their eyes closed in an act of utter submission, allowing their bodies to flow from the proverbial quiet stream into the violent and suffocating ocean.

There are few words that can describe the intensity of experiencing the music live. You get the impression that something terrible is going to happen, and sure enough, it does, its coming obliterating everything in its path. Indeed, some people had to leave the space for a moment or move further away from the stage in a bid to regulate the music. The textured synthesised sounds and the weeping guitars were not done justice by the sound at Manning Bar, the walls of the place threatening to peel away to accommodate. Amazingly, there were a few people talking during the James’ quietly nuanced guitar, but they too were silenced into obedience by the white noise of Mark Smith’s pounding bassline and Rayani’s satanic tones, as he swayed around like a man possessed.

Despite the absence of the beautiful Your Hand In Mine and First Breath After Coma, the band delivered a set worthy if not better than their overused Mogwai comparisons, and leaves this reviewer needing a few days to recover from it all.

gig review: José González

I am stupid behind my usual deadline with this gig review on José González – I usually get it done the morning after the gig. By the way, he was stunning, love love love. But I took a critic perspective with this review. I paid for my ticket, but have since signed on as a contributor for at FasterLouder (about freakin’ time, I know). Hopefully it’ll pass through the editors.. *twiddles thumbs*

I still have a Daft Punk review I’ve been meaning to finish, but let’s face it – how the fuck do you put the Daft Punk experience into words? I was hoping to pitch it Rolling Stone, who’ve since gotten a new editor – HURRAH! No more being freakishly terrified of Simon Wooldridge =D


José González @ Enmore Theatre, 29.12.07
Support: Emily Barker

José González really loves Australia. His recent Enmore gig was his fourth visit to our sweltering shores in just under as many years. Commanding a quietly formidable presence at Newtown’s Enmore Theatre, the artist riffled through his library of finger-plucking tracks with requisite covers thrown into the mix. Indeed there is just something about the Enmore Theatre that keeps musos coming back, and González was no exception, transforming the at times vast space into an intimate mute-lit lounge.

Support Emily Barker turned over a pleasing set with her folk-slash-alternate-country melodies. Dixie Chicks comparisons aside, she found her place between a melancholic Sarah McLachlan and the trace of Stevie Nicks. Indeed, one might even find the strength and clarity of Martha Wainwright if listened hard enough. Barker’s voice is quite an aural gem to behold, as she attracted some appreciative applause from the small crowd who bothered to turn up early.

A rather long 45-minute wait finally saw the Argentinean-cum-Swede stroll onto the stage with his rapidly expanding afro and mo’. A hush descended the murmuring crowd as he opened the show with a powerful rendition of Hints. Fingers moved across the strings like water, hypnotising to those lucky few at the front as we were treated to a humbling instrumental number before crowd pleaser Heartbeats took the show to the first of many highlights of the night.

Percussionist Erik Bodin and back-up vocalist Yukimi Nagamo joined him on stage for Stay In The Shade, before the crowd threw adoration at a less-than-perfect In Our Nature. Indeed, while the song-writing from the In Our Nature record is a lot more adventurous, its surety was not as easily obtained when translated to a live performance. Interspersing a lukewarm Time To Send Someone Away with a haunting rendition of Lovestain merely served to point out exactly in what made Veneer so exquisite. The atmosphere of this song brought the show to a soaring crescendo as we were treated to a more bitter side to the otherwise quiet González. Soonafter, Remain took this fever to a higher octave before a simmering and almost groovy Down The Line.

A change possibly spurred by his growing popularity, the venue was divided into two dancefloors, a move that did little to benefit González’s otherwise mesmerising performance. The presence that he drove on stage is one of drawn out subtlety and climactic in its execution, an impact lost on some of his newer fans. It seemed that the simplicity of his songs found many punters shuffling from sore lower backs, and made the theatre appear cavernous at times. A shame to be sure considering the lush melodies mused with his soft vocal tones; he spent much of the night hunched over his classical guitar, the odd ‘thank you’ thrown to the crowd here and there in between his aurally pleasing twangs and picks.

With such a lack of showmanship, you become acutely aware González’ complacency with his growing popularity and perchance for the stunning covers he puts in place of his otherwise excellent song-writing, which is on par with the likes of Elliot Smith and of course, Nick Drake. The encore proved such brilliance with Deadweight on Velveteen and Crosses before a lack-lustre Abram from his second album. The softly melancholic Kylie Minogue cover aside, it was apparent that the night belonged to one song. A devastating Teardrop closed the night, building to a commanding high, at once breathtaking and true.

A night with José González is one well-spent indeed, especially for a reviewer who’d paid to see him twice before. Despite a slow rise in popularity with the second offering, the songs were supported by his solid efforts with Veneer many of which proved to be the favourites amongst the crowd. The performance was an enlightening end to the year, though it would be a crying shame if he became defined by the covers that he so ingeniously produces.