SOAK with support from Gabriel Paschal Blake
Friday 7th November 2014- Christ Church, Derry
If you aren’t familiar with “SOAK”, you probably haven’t seen too much but the underside of your rock for a while. The Derry-based Bridie Monds-Watson, who goes by the pseudonym “SOAK” (a portmanteau of “soul” and “folk”, despite it being difficult to pigeonhole her music based on such broadly defined trace elements) recently embarked on her “B a NoBody” tour, which encompassed venues of varying capacity in both the UK and Ireland. The penultimate show in Christ Church, Derry, was the first date that she had played in Derry for almost a year, and put a definitive end to the recent dry spell that the city had been experiencing.
As neither of us are overly familiar with Derry, upon my plus one enquiring of the venue “Are there like, pews?”, I made the mistake of laughing confidently. However, after two hours of resting rigidly upon a wooden pew, my joints and I were certainly no longer laughing. As it turned out, Gabriel Paschal Blake, a lyrical acoustic act hailing from Letterkenny, wasn’t much in the form for mirth either. His songs regale rambling tales of woe that would rival a lot of early (and overly emotive) LiveJournal entries. Boasting misleadingly cheery titles such as “My Father the Undertaker”, Blake’s songs are, admittedly, brimming with emotional depth and lyrical prowess beyond his years.
His stage presence transcends the stage (in the sense that he sporadically leaves it in order to engage further with the audience) and his vocal delivery doubles as a crash course in theatrical melodrama. What his songs may lack in conciseness is compensated for by his (almost worryingly raw) enthusiasm- unfortunately though, his highly ambitious reach just exceeds his grasp. I feel the need to point out that posing questions like “Does everyone die the same way?” for a few (fairly extensive) verses only to eventually conclude that, on second thoughts, “Not everyone dies the same way.” is possibly not the best formula for building rapport with an audience.
Taking to the stage with minimal preamble and a quiet confidence, SOAK exudes natural ease and ability, and chose to kick off the proceedings with “Explosions”. It is a gentle, understated opening track, and oozes ambience, with lulled arpeggios and her murmurings of “your heart” resounding continually off of the dimly illuminated walls. The atmosphere verges on ethereal, between her otherworldly music and black-clad, nymph-like stature, which is only accentuated by the purple and green candlelight.
Followed by the wonderfully wistful “Sea Creatures”, her vocals are delicate and harmonise beautifully with the earnest acoustic melody, all of which again contrasts sharply with the fluid, arresting lyrics. Coming from anybody else, “I prayed for you/And you know I don’t like Jesus” would most likely be written off as an attempt at being knowingly self-conscious, but when it’s coming from SOAK, you can’t help but be drawn into empathising with her lightly lilting plight.
The lesser known tracks, “Worry” and “Blind” are also rather well received by the enraptured audience- SOAK could easily remain silent between songs and still win over any crowd, but instead, she chatters with great ease, conveying her sincere appreciation and dispersing snippets of information about her recent tour and each individual song.
Next up, and setting the scene for some serious soul-searching, is the beautifully melancholic “24 Windowed House”. We are privy to hearing that it was written with the intention of stepping back and looking at someone by means of “different parts of them, like they’re a house, and you’re looking at them and bits of their personality through like, different windows”. The song is, despite its unusually ambitious concept, pleasantly articulate: brooding in nature, but open in its evident affection for the subject. Her delivery is nothing short of stunning: the crystallised sweep of her vocal range combined with the soulful strumming on her acoustic is absolutely mesmerising, and a pleasure to behold.
Having recently hit a whopping one million plays on Spotify,“B a noBody” is a no-brainer of a crowd pleaser. It is recreated live with no difficulty whatsoever, which is something of a rarity for any current artist, and only demonstrates further her infallible talent. The song alludes to something of a paradox, in that SOAK seems to take a variation of pride in being a self-proclaimed “nobody”, when in fact, she is considered not only a somebody, but one that is certainly of note, by fans and critics alike: she recounts having fans steal the black helium balloons from the previous night’s show in London; being invited to a Burberry launch party; and more recently, has received a nomination for the BBC’s Sound of 2015.
The emotive “Blud”, which was dedicated to a friend who recently passed away, was declared to be the last song of the evening. It is evocative of Beach House, and would have been a rather fitting ending to such a heartfelt set. However, needing little persuasion (in which the crowd are more than happy to indulge- I highly doubt that this is a church that has echoed with chants of “One more tune!” prior to this evening), SOAK obliges with a much appreciated encore.
Featuring “Reckless Behaviour”, which is “probably” going to be her next single, but regardless of release date, is bound to be a sure-fire hit. Filled with clever hooks, and complete with a rather catchy refrain, it is definitely a release to look forward to.
Finally, switching up her acoustic for an electric guitar, “Oh Brother” runs in a darker, but nonetheless thrilling, vein. Frankly, it is bewitching to witness a talent so versatile, and yet so distinctive. Upon seeing her perform, the fact that SOAK has become so well established in a relatively short space of time is of no surprise, especially when you take into consideration her incredible natural ability. She is an artist truly deserving of the surrounding hype, and her musical prowess is already remarkable- it is simply an added bonus that she will only continue to hone her existing skills, as both a performer and as a songwriter, and that Derry is fortunate enough to be able to lay claim to having produced such a brilliant young talent.