Tess and the Tellers
London, Union Chapel
19th September 2013
Up and coming folksters triumph at London’s quaintest live music venue. Will Dix reports.
Islington’s Union Chapel is, in the world of live music, arguably the quaintest place you could ever see a gig. A working church-cum-venue, with coffee and cake for sale, and where punters are encouraged to take a pew on, well, actual pews. The stage’s centrepiece is no instrument, musician or other such disposable entity, but possibly the biggest pulpit I have ever seen, looming over everything else in the room regardless of where you sit, stand or kneel (if you’re that way inclined).
Enter Tess and the Tellers, a relatively unknown, unsigned, London-based folk group, who brush timidly through the décor to greet a sizable, if not quite sold-out, congregation. “So glad I finally get to say this: hello Union Chapel!” exclaims frontwoman and songwriter Tessa Bickers, understandably excited to be on the last leg of a journey that begun over a year ago when she booked the 500-capacity venue without a band or a record deal. Call it a vanity project if you must, but for an entirely self-promoted gig, showcasing largely self-released material, it’s astounding to see not one wrinkle of stress on Bickers’ elated visage.
Certainly any notions of vanity in the elaborate choice of venue are put to bed from opener ‘Jersey’ onwards. Bickers’ light vocals and acoustic guitar shimmer around the Chapel’s walls in a way it’s hard to imagine being achieved anywhere else. The highlights come with the fleshier songs of the set, those where her full band come together, like ‘Save You’ and recent single ‘Life Jacket’. Older tracks meanwhile, some performed by Tess solo, such as ‘Addict’, may be lyrically contrived but are no less enjoyable for it.
Though you’d expect a gig of this size to be way out of their comfort zone, Tess and her Tellers keep the crowd enthralled for well over an hour. The encore sees a brilliantly stripped down cover of DeBarge’s ‘Rhythm of the Night’ before support acts Paper Aeroplanes and Saint Saviour return to the stage for rapturous closer ‘Keep You There’. While it may bring Tess’s current endeavour to a triumphant close, it seems unlikely, and would be totally unjust, to be her last.
All words by Will Dix. More work by Will can be found in his Louder Than War archive.