Friday 26 October 2018

LIVE: Novo Amor at Union Chapel (23/10/18)

First things first. If you haven't yet, stop what you're doing and take a listen to the debut Novo Amor record Birthplace. You can thank me later. In the week since it's release I'm certainly into a double figure listen count (it's probably 20+ if I'm completely honest...) and I'm finding more things that I love about the record upon each listen. It is a sublime piece of work: atmospheric, lyrically beautiful and perfectly executed - one of the best debut albums I have heard in a long time. I simply adore it.

Novo Amor is the moniker of Welsh multi-instrumentalist, producer and songwriter Ali Lacey. He's in the midst of a mammoth twenty-nine show full-band tour across the UK, Europe and the US to promote the record, and I was lucky enough to catch the last UK show of the run, the second of back to back sold out shows at London's Union Chapel. As suspected, it was a completely magical experience, made only more-so by the venue - reminiscent for me of catching the likes of Bear's DenStornoway and Matthew & The Atlas playing in churches in the past few years. There's something truly special, and almost transformative, about hearing this genre of music performed in such a setting.

As those around me settled down for the show with mugs of hot chocolate and the lights went down, Anna Leone, tour support for the UK and European dates, took to the stage. With just her guitar for company, she transfixed the audience of the 900 capacity venue from the first notes, impressing with her well crafted lyrics and unique vocals. You'd hardly have guessed it was the biggest venue she'd played in, until she informed the crowd between tracks, describing it as a bit less daunting the second time around... but only a bit. Two of Ali's band members joined Anna on stage for the final track of her set, and we were given just a small indication of what we might expect from the rest of the evening.

With anticipation in the air, the band took to the stage. I knew that it was going to be great, but I wasn't prepared to be on the verge of tears a couple of tracks in... Nostalgic, emotive music is most certainly my thing and the set ticked all the right boxes in that regard. The band delivered an incredibly powerful opening to the set, displaying the strength of Ali's back catalogue by storming through the record's leading singles Birthplace and Utican in the first few tracks. The six piece ensemble shone in upbeat tracks such as Utican and Emigrate, with particularly stunning violin and trumpet parts. Stripped back moments in the set were a display of Ali's incredibly tight harmonies with guitarist, collaborator and producer Ed Tullett. It truly was an incredible show, leaving me with just one thought... how have I not cottoned on to these guys sooner?!

Ali seemed incredibly humble, always one of the best attributes for an artist to have. In a moment between tracks, he shared how grateful he was for us all coming along to the show and supporting his music, and how he was not only proud of his music being at a stage where he could fill a 900 capacity venue, but of the personal achievement in being able to stand up in front of that many people and perform. I find that we very rarely stop to think of the mental toll that performing in front of a crowd might have for our favourite musicians, and found it quite endearing for Ali to highlight this.

Also worth noting, is something which initially drew me to listen in more depth to Ali's music when I first discovered Birthplace back in June, through its video which aims to highlight the issue of plastic pollution in our oceans. After a little perusal of the Novo Amor website, I stumbled very happily across a 'Sustainability' page, where Ali shares the ways in which he is aiming to make both the record (recycled packaging AND recycled vinyl pellets!) and tour sustainable, by working with both Julie's Bicycle and Energy Revolution to minimise the environmental impact of the tour. In an interview for M Magazine (PRS) Ali explains that "when artists tour we rarely consider the environmental impact of what we're doing. We forget about the thousands of litres of diesel we burn across tens of thousands of miles, the plastic bottles and disposable cutlery we use once then throw away, and we don't often stop to think about the inks and fabrics we use for our merchandise." I was genuinely chuffed to see the band using reusable water bottles on stage... a little quick maths later, I figure that between six band members across twenty-nine tour dates, they're saving over 170 plastic water bottles, a sizeable impact from a relatively small change, and something which I hope that more touring artists will adopt to do their bit for the environment.

All in all, Novo Amor is quickly becoming my favourite musical discovery of 2018, and the show was a complete triumph. Check out the album, enjoy it as much as I am, watch out for future live shows, and if you're a band or musician - keep an eye on your environmental impact!

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