The Amazing Devil
Gerry’s Club, London
“Who Am I? I’m the centre of attention”, sings Madeleine Hyland at one point this evening. Well, of course she is. Her striking beauty only partly obscured by what appears to be woad painted on her face, she could hardly be anything else.
But she faces pretty stiff competition, given the all-round excellence of the band led by guitarist Joey Batey, that she has surrounded herself with. Despite hailing from New Zealand Hyland mines a very traditional British seam of folk, unearths several nuggets and polishes the whole into a dazzling jewel of performance-led folk. Traditional, certainly, but with a sophistication that owes more to 21st century London than Lindisfarne.
Debut single “The King” begins, as does many a folk tune, with a gentle acoustic intro before all hell breaks loose. “I’ll keep you safe/from the dark things that wait/in our house on the top of the rock”, sings Hyland above a scorching guitar driven romp through a landscape that owes as much to Edvard Grieg as it does to Kate Bush. In fact, “The King” wouldn’t sound out of place on Bush’s dark masterpiece, The Dreaming, and that’s no bad thing at all. Neither is the sheer theatricality that The Amazing Devil bring to their performance.
Folk musicians have always employed drama to tell a story but this evening’s storytelling is more than engaging. It’s a genuinely immersive experience in which the audience, which packs this tiny club, is sucked into the vortex created by the on-stage – and off – stage antics of the band. Hyland, part-witch, part-lunatic, throws herself bodily to the ground, where she continues to sing on her back, without missing a note. It’s the sheer exuberance of the musicianship, and the beautiful quality to Hyland’s voice that allows her to get away with it.
On “Pruning Shears”, Hyland and Batey combine brilliantly in Sprechstimme. Sung-spoken at a furious pace the pair do not put a foot wrong. It’s highly impressive, all the more so for retaining a clarity that allows the witty lyrics to be understood. What could have descended into an unedifying gloop instead becomes an undoubted highlight, in an evening full of highlights.
On the more traditional “Elsa’s Song”, and again on the surging “New York Torch Song”, Hyland and Batey prove that they are as comfortable singing in unison as they are in harmony. Indeed, it is a rare pleasure to hear songs as visceral and (often bloody) as these sung with such impeccable intonation.
To this end, they are helped enormously by the percussion (and flute) of Mike Rothman and the searing, amplification of Robert Hallow’s guitar which prevents the whole from ever becoming too comfortable. Unusually, strings are supplied, not by a fiddle, but by Heloise Werner on cello, whose playing is as exciting as her name suggests. (In a rare act of rebellion, Werner is the only band member to have said “no” to the woad!)
Werner also lends her colourful mezzo to backing vocals. The fact she sings while sitting down adds a slightly ethereal note to proceedings as you struggle at first, to locate exactly where her voice is coming from.
Unexpected, and extraordinary in more ways than you can shake a stick at (a stick with bells on, naturally), The Amazing Devil is by far the most unusual gig I’ve been to so far this year.
The Amazing Devil’s debut album, Love Run, is awaiting release