Standing all alone on a low stage in the small back room of a Dalston pub, Hannah Lou Clark immediately casts a spell over the audience. The crowd is rapt, silenced, as she sings “I’ll be your lover, I’ll be your friend” over a detuned guitar, repeating the phrase “deep water” as the guitar crashes like waves.
Immediately, as the opener, ‘Matilda’, unfolds, it’s obvious why she has been compared with PJ Harvey. The hushed crowd hangs onto every word of ‘Kids in Heat’, performed without the backing vocals and drums of the EP recording from a couple of years ago. Clark’s ethereal voice resonates beautifully with the top-string riff on her semi-acoustic electric guitar.
“Does everyone have a beverage? I’m not as beered up as I probably should be,” says Clark as she introduces ‘Euphoria’, which she sings flawlessly over twanging guitar and a deliberate buzz in the amps to add background depth. The words “she’s drinking gin like mothers milk” keep the alcohol theme going, and the track ends with the melancholy and paradoxical lyric, “Euphoria, blushed red with the kiss of death.” Clark says the next track, ‘We’re Rich’, is a love song, and she seems to be singing to herself at times, barely registering the presence of the silent crowd. She is still alone on the stage, dressed in black, her finger-plucking guitar style perfectly accompanying her captivating vocals.
A cover of ‘Crying’ by Roy Orbison is the last song in the first, solo half of the set, matching reverb guitar with a tremor in Clark’s voice. It’s hard to go wrong with such a classic and she does it justice. Younger sister Charlotte Clark on an antique Orla Tiffany organ and lead guitarist Ellie Jones join in for the final five songs.
After a fair amount of tuning, or perhaps detuning, the group dive into new single ‘It’s Your Love’. Backed by a vintage drum machine, Clark’s guitar takes on the role of bass as the pace picks up, and Jones’ spiky guitar drives the indie track towards a big audience cheer at its end. The drum machine, Clark says, has adopted the name Prince during her short headlining tour, as an obvious tribute to the late Minnesota legend.
A new song, ‘Wet Regret’, about waking up with the fear the morning after a heavy night, leans toward country and brings the theme back to booze, appropriately for a pub venue. Picking up on the C&W vibe, ‘Cowboy Joe’ is the title of the next number, the second track on the new EP. Led by Prince the drum machine, it’s discordant and non-linear. ‘My Game’ from the first EP shows off the sisters’ natural vocal harmonising skills and Clark’s ability to build a disjointed song. “Play by my rules, never outstay your welcome, unless I ask you to,” she sings over whirligig fairground organ and guitars.
The last song tonight is ‘Silent Type’, the first single, featuring heavily distorted guitars that turn psych under Clark’s half spoken-half shouted vocals. “You can see the doldrums in their faces,” she intones, “I still kiss you when your mouth is broken… I prefer to remain unspoken.” The clever lyrics and unexpected instrumentation of both singles are reminiscent of the songwriting and feel of St Vincent’s Annie Clark. Hannah Lou Clark hasn’t yet had her namesake’s success. But tonight’s gig showcases a talent that should produce an intriguing debut album.
On her current playlist is Mark Lanegan’s 2004 album ‘Bubblegum’ on which, perhaps coincidentally, the Queens of the Stone Age singer duets on two racks with PJ Harvey. There’s no reason to compare female artists exclusively with other female performers, and there’s a lot of Lanegan’s blend of slightly off-kilter singer-songwriter and darker grunge in Clark’s solo work.
This Hannah Lou Clark article was written by Ian Bourne, a GIGsoup contributor. Edited by Stephen Butchard.