Whyte Horses Experience
September 13th 2018
Royal Festival Hall, London
A triumphant audio-visual delight from the 15-strong Manchester psychedelic band, with guest appearances by La Roux, Gruff Rhys, (Super Furry Animals), Melanie Pain (Nouvelle Vague) and members of the Go! Team.
Ambition is a wonderful thing: aim high and you’re going to create something special. And by adding “Experience” after their name for this terrific show at the Royal Festival Hall, Whyte Horses were clearly not planning on being just a band playing a bunch of songs (not that there’s anything wrong with that, if the songs are any good). And what an experience it was, with psychedelic visual delights, a stage packed with musicians, appearances by a jester that quoted lines from the Rolling Stones’ Their Satanic Majesties Request, guest singers, a children’s choir, tubular bells…. As my friend Simon Beesley who took the photographs said after the show: “They didn’t just throw in the kitchen sink: you got the bath as well!” Oh…wait a minute…their songs are fucking great too. With or without the “experience” bit.
Moshi Moshi recording artist and Slow Club member, Charles Watson opened the show, and was the only support act. His first number was played solo and after that he was joined by a four-piece band, which he later told me comprises of members of Sweet Baboo’s band. His style is somewhere between Father John Misty and Lawrence Arabia, that’s FJM’s Bella Union label-mate, not the movie. Although his voice is different from the aforementioned, he captures a similar melancholic folkish/Americana vibe, with a bit of a groove behind it: subtle but heavy on the bass & drums, with plenty of space in the arrangements. He has an incredible voice with a wide range, and he is a fantastic song-writer. I was impressed, so much so that I bought a copy of his album from him at the merch stand afterwards.
Then there was an interval, throughout which a film montage consisting of ‘60s and ‘70s TV shows was shown on the giant screen on stage. The last bit of footage showed a man (Fred Dibnah?) climbing a chimney the size of a skyscraper. A few minutes later, it looked as though the projector showing the chimney dude had been laced with LSD, the lights went dim and Whyte Horses came on. All fifteen of them, and that’s before any guests. A band that size must be a challenge to rehearse as well as to sound-check/mix live, but despite the two female singers being a bit lost in the mix near the start of the set, the sound was crystal clear and faultless. Royal Festival Hall has incredible acoustics, and the sound engineer is obviously top-notch. The band played a staggering 26 song set, which mainly consisted of their two albums: 2016’s Pop Or Not and this year’s Empty Words (which I gave a 10/10 review right here in LTW) Melanie Pain’s (Nouvelle Vague) contributions were just incredible (the first of which being the achingly beautiful Never Took the Time), and added great visual impact too, next to the two existing front-women of the band.
Throughout the one and a half hour show, live footage of the singers was projected on the screen behind the band, and manipulated with mind-blowing psychedelic effects: a real treat to watch as well as the band itself. And the music itself flowed so wonderfully too. One minute they’ve got a children’s choir (St Bart’s, with whom they also re-recorded their first album) helping them out on the gorgeously tender Elusive Mr Jimmy, and then on walks the slick and painfully cool La Roux, guesting on the funky Best Of It.
Super Furry Animals man Gruff Rhys got a massive response from the crowd, coming on for one song, Tocyn, which he told me (before the show) was a cover version of an obscure Welsh glam rock song from 1973. Well it would be wouldn’t it? He is Gruff Rhys! That was yet another ingredient that made Whyte Horses’ set so special. It may sound ambitious that a relatively new band chose a prestigious venue such as Royal Festival Hall, and then play quite a lengthy set with almost every song from both albums, but it went down well. Wonderfully so. And texture is where they are at: light and shade. Even without the guest singers, the songs themselves have enough variety, both in style and arrangement. The 4-piece string section really shone brightly on Nightmares Aren’t Real, giving depth to the girls’ voices and blending with acoustic guitars and organ to fill out the Royal Festival Hall. And just as you’re enjoying the serenity, they blast out the garage rock & roll stomper that it Astrologie Siderale, for which a barefooted Melanie Pain comes back on to join them. They play two songs in the encore, firstly the lovely Greatest Love In Town and then finally ending with Watching TV, which starts with a pounding drone, progresses with Beatles-esque strings and climaxes into a disco beat, which has everyone in the audience clapping along.
Whyte Horses are a band who know their own worth and are not afraid to take risks. Good on ‘em! They walk it like they talk it, and they like the drama, like announcing special guest Gruff Rhys only 24 hours before the show, or giving us at LTW an exclusive mixtape a couple of days before, like name-checking The Velvet Underground and Andy Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable as an influence…. Some may think it’s too pretentious, but this is a band that loves what it does, and refuses to apologise for it. Maybe in their own minds they already are a classic psychedelic band. You know what? I’m sold. Bring on the next experience.
Words by Arash Torabi. More writing by Arash can be found at his Louder Than War author’s archive.
Photos by Simon Beesley.