Maria Doyle reviews Jane Weaver’s show at the Out to Lunch Festival

Jane Louise Weaver is a genre-busting, stereo-taping artist who has achieved greatly in her 48 years. As well as being a singer, songwriter, and guitarist, she runs her own record label, Bird.

She started out by forming a Britpop band, Kill Laura, while still at sixth form in college. Between 1993 and 1996, Kill Laura released five singles, two on Polydor and three on the Manchester Records label run by Rob Gretton, owner of The Haçienda and manager of New Order. Kill Laura disbanded in 1997. Weaver’s solo career began shortly afterwards.

Weaver formed the ‘folktronica’ side project Misty Dixon in 2002 consisting of herself, Anna Greenwood, Dave Tyack and Sam Yates. Misty Dixon released several singles, and one album, Iced To Mode (2003).

The release of the album was shrouded in tragedy following the disappearance of Tyack in August 2002. He was found dead on the island of Corsica in June 2004, nearly two years after being declared missing. Misty Dixon split up soon afterwards.

The latest Weaver output in November 2019 was a Dreamy Party remix of The Orielles’ single ‘Come Down on Jupiter.’

Lead singer of the band, Esme, described it “as much a song as it is a narrative that soundtracks a space flight, right through from the ominous introductory sounds of the grand piano to the Lizzie Mercier Descloux – esque ‘thrift shop cowboys’ group chants towards the end, which diffuses the tension of the wig out preceding it.” This homage to ageless voices and sounds is also, I feel, inherent in Weaver’s own work, of which more later.

To be fair, it seems reasonable to say that we are all just looking for ways to reinvent what has already been said musically, artistically. Nevertheless, even with a substantial pedigree, Weaver still has to relocate all of her musical sorcery to Belfast and the Ulster Sports Club. The question would be asked what exactly was the chemical reaction likely to be. How would a local audience respond?

For the performance, part of the Out to Lunch Festival, Weaver was a priestess of musical aviation, gliding effortlessly, never really having to move a muscle except to play a synthesiser. She was flanked either side by another synth and a live bass. As limited as this appeared, it generated a wall of sound but importantly the sound headed towards crescendo. At the start, a laboured climb, building up slowly, and by the time of the (only) encore, Weaver had taken the room captive with a spell of a song from “The Amber Light” (2015), “I Need A Connection”.

Repetition always works well in dance music, and this is emblematic of this track, investigating the idea of wanting something so much, but for various reasons, usually “it’s complicated”, it keeps eluding you.

This show was a combining of ‘cyclic variations’ of her latest album, “Modern Kosmology” and her earlier, sixth album, “The Silver Globe” (2014). A track such as “Arrows” could be said to hark back to the 1998 release by Air, the ubiquitous Moon Safari. Yet, Jane Weaver is a lot more sophisticated than mere Electropop. The concept for Silver Globe, is derived from the 1988 film On The Silver Globe by Andrzej Żuławski. It features contributions from Cybotron, Badly Drawn Boy and David Holmes.

Her song “The Electric Mountain” uses a sample of “Star Cannibal” from Church of Hawkwind (1982). The Silver Globe was critically acclaimed as an artistic breakthrough and named Piccadilly Records Album of the Year 2014. ‘Don’t Take My Soul, which was one of the standout performances of the Belfast gig, is a clever innovation set to automatic mechanical pneumatic organ rhythms and nervous giggle vocals about the risks inherent in trusting another human being. It must surely be a mark of Jane’s artistic confidence and experimental integrity that she did not play the song from Modern Kosmology (2017) for which she is best known and for which everyone was baying, “The Architect”.

Matched with the outflow of ‘harmonic electronica’, Jane Weaver has a classic soulful voice, plaintive and modest. She has an interesting orientation regarding the ideas she explores in her lyrics.  Her material explores spaces. The track “Valley” from “Modern Kosmology”, again is descriptive of the place in between highs, where nothing seems to happen, the scenery is all the same, the effort to keep moving is, in itself, exhausting.

There is also a coherence to the delivery of her show. The thing about excelling the heights in any path, or emotion, you must know how to preserve your life in flight and you must know how to land safely. When Jane left the Belfast stage that night, there was a mixture of calm, bemusement, hunger.

With regards her music, it could lead one to the ponderable, is electronica, in particular, devoid of storytelling and pumped full of RPM as it is, a resting place for whatever, usually problems, that are circulating in one’s head? In other words, does this genre lend itself to the explorations in Weaver’s writing.

According to the contemporary science website, Yaabot, repetitive vibes generate corresponding signals in the brain. This establishes calmness and a sense of regularity that in turn probably influence a state of mind. As a consequence, it is possible to enter a mode of serenity when brain anticipates the welcome vibes because of their repetitive and regular nature. Just like catching brain waves, and stretching them into a more elongated, pensive, delayed state.

It seems obvious really with the application of a little biochemistry, a good advertisement of why people should go see more live music, and especially that which is beyond their usual preferences. It could also explain why people emotionally chill after hearing an old, familiar track. On that basis we could suggest that there is no reason why electronica cannot be teamed with lyrics which might appear at odds with the flow of the music.

‘Mousike’ is the Greek work for music and means ‘Art of the Muses.’ More recently, Leo Tolstoy defined music as the shorthand of emotion. So, when a great singer uses their voice as music they convey something of themselves to us, something they have found to be true in, something they are struggling with right now or something mysterious that only we receive unique to our situation. I can see how Jane Weaver, at times, harks back to great ballad singers like Sandy Denny and Judy Dyble of Fairport Convention which is at the heart of her roots in folk, the traditional music of England since medieval times.

Overall Jane Weaver is releasing art that maybe is meant to fly low under the radar, subtly challenging generic stereotypes and walking just enough out of step with conformity as to have, effectively, nothing to do with it at all.

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