‘It was everything we had hoped for: cathartic, moving and musically magical.’
Arriving at ‘The Others’ – a Stoke Newington based venue which it has to be said doesn’t seem much from the outside – I wasn’t sure I was in the right place. However, heading up the equally unassuming staircase it soon became clear I was. The venue was buzzing. And it had only been open about 15 minutes. Clearly a lot of people had discovered The Magic Lantern (aka Jamie Doe) before I had. This was indeed someone with a following, and a sizeable one at that but with the seamless fusing of stylistic influences from jazz, classical and folk music that can be heard throughout his tracks, it was no surprise.
With mingling a plenty and Jamie circulating the room like a pro, the room turned into a bohemian style lounge enabling the still growing crowd to find the best position for the first half. Creating the most sophisticated of atmospheres, Jamie provided a gentle, soothing and honesty filled introduction to an opening set comprised of folk music from enchanting soloists and trios alongside 21st century style string quartets from by the Phaedra Ensemble. It was a perfectly balanced opening set and in providing a showcase of the musicians and friends Jamie has made along the way, it meant the evening only heading one way. And it did.
Following a short interval and a re-jostling for position, the main event of the night began: The launch of ‘To The Islands.’ Returning to the performance area, Jamie calmly asked if we had our ‘seatbelts buckled’ and if we were ready for the mammoth (roughly 1 hour 20 mins) set that was about to begin. Of course everyone was and whether you were standing still, sitting or laying on the floor or going back and forth to the bar, you couldn’t help but feel engaged in what was soon to become an almost cathartic experience.
Explaining the background to the album in the way he did, I felt – as I’m sure others did – a real sense of awe for the time Jamie had spent getting to this point. There aren’t many, if any artists, that would spend three and a half years really honing their sound. Equally, nor are there many that would imagine a gig ten years in advance. However in doing so it was abundantly clear that this was the destination of that exact journey.
Moving through the first few tracks it quickly became apparent that the sense of catharsis felt when Jamie was speaking would play a key role in the whole set. Immediately haunting, the lines of ‘We’re growing apart friends’ from Jamie’s previous release ‘Different Paths‘ cut through the silence and made us feel ironically connected. Effortlessly building from its pulsating beginnings to its contained climax, it gave us everything we hoped it would.
With the opening trio of tracks working as a set in themselves, my attention shifted – though not completely – from the musicality to the level of professionalism within Jamie’s performing style. Signalling with nonchalant ease to drummer Dave Hamblett to continue the cycle while he set up for his guitar entry of ‘Albatross’, you had to smile at just how comfortable he seemed in this environment. In truth, it was as though we were in his living room. The only difference was that he was backed by a band of sublimely skilfull musicians and a sound engineer who made it feel like we were listening to a fully mastered final cut!
‘The earlier cathartic atmosphere turned to one that felt more like a religious experience than a gig!’
Taking a break from performing, following the beauty of ‘Between the World and Me,’ Jamie explained further about the journey that has got him to this gig and how his life has changed throughout the process. It was incredibly touching. Emotive even. Sure you expect to feel different emotions at a gig but the sheer level of it was rather unexpected. As was the relaxed combination of high pitched, time-bending bass lines (Chris Hyson), transportive piano and faultless falsetto of ‘Two Bells.‘
Compared to the seductive climax of the previous track, ‘Two Bells’ gave us a chance to hear just how diverse Jamie’s music can be within a single moment. While it was in a different but equally emotive league, the exposed moments combined with the changes of tempo resulted in a late night jazz club atmosphere. Building on this further, ‘Holding Hands‘ (the opener from To The Islands) saw guest pianist Matt Robinson provided track-transforming keys while Jamie combined vocals with subtle conducting like the consummate professional band leader.
Moving away from the full band set up, two solo tracks ‘Lydia‘ and ‘Stitches‘ gave us a chance to hear just Jamie. Doing a quick change prior to performing the first of these, we were once again moved but this time by story filled introduction. Although brief, the anecdote about this being the jacket from his wedding brought an extra special touch to the playful nature of the track.
The introduction to the second however showcased his philosophical side with Jamie explaining that ‘some songs are only played when they need to be, and now was the time to play it.’ Filled with reflection-infused lyricism ‘Stitches‘ (taken from his previous release ‘Love of Too Much Living’) ensured that the earlier cathartic atmosphere turned to one that felt more like a religious experience than a gig!
Demonstrating the more light-hearted side of his personality, Jamie followed up his solos with a couple of humorous anecdotes about the tracks we were about to hear. With some of the main band returning to the stage for ‘Harvest Moon‘ – ‘No, it’s not the one by Neil Young’ – it was also a moment of realisation about the sheer level of musical diversity on display. Full of unusual blends of instruments and sublime sub-tone infused saxophone lines (Matt Anderson/Zac Gvirtzman) it made for the most soothing of wake up calls. This said, Jamie then proceeded to take this a stage further with the Phaedra Ensemble joining the proceedings for ‘Masks.‘ Looking at the combination of instruments, it shouldn’t have worked but to say it did would be an understatement of gigantic proportions.
Taking us into the final part of the evening, we returned to the side of Jamie that speaks, and indeed performs, from the heart. Bringing an appropriate flurry of thought-provoking, incredibly reflective lyrics ‘Winter‘ made us feel wonderfully cosy. Likewise the curious, yet increasingly comforting ‘Darling Day,‘ – preceded by Jamie’s personal dedication to some of those who have had a huge impact on his life – made us feel touched by every instrumental and vocal inflection. It was truly beautiful.
While a message as strong as that within ‘Darling Day’ would have made the most suitable of closing tracks, the inclusion of the musically meandering ‘Weariest River’ ensured everyone had a chance to shine. However, even with the over-flowing sense of emotion as clear as it was, for us we didn’t want it to end. Therefore we were of course delighted when Jamie treated us to the evocative piano solo ‘Re: Her‘ and handed us the most feel good of conclusions in the form of ‘Scattered Leaves.‘ Jamie may have thanked us for coming ‘To The Islands,’ but we very much owe our thanks to Jamie for such a musically magical evening.