LIVE REVIEW: Nel Unlit, Tom Joshua, Before Breakfast @ Westgarth Social Club, Middlesbrough (22.02.2) | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image: Nel Unlit by Tracy Hyman

To celebrate the release of their hauntingly beautiful debut album Wake For The Dreaming, Nel Unlit – the always colourful, wildly talented collaborative group of songwriters with roots firmly grounded in the North East – delivered flawlessly their grand rock-opera album, which brought an extremely distinctive and intimate evening to a triumphant close.

Inside the walls of Westgarth Social Club, a venue with bags of traditional borough charm, the atmosphere was buzzing; a community of music-loving folk, in high spirits, infectious, warm and welcoming. Nel Unlit produced an evening that was cosy, joyful and a real celebration of their notable debut. From the extensive bill – constructed from the cast of artists whom each played a role within the narrative of Wake For The Dreaming – Before Breakfast and Tom Joshua pricked my ears, commanded the entire room.

Before Breakfasts lead vocals are delicate yet commanding, reminiscent of the ambient acoustics of Daughter. Lush harmonies, blended with delicate cello and topical yet somewhat provocative lyrics that pose big questions upon womanhood “I’m fertile but I’m insecure”. The Sheffield powerhouses EP Lighthouse had a magnificent build up that left my ears yearning for more. Sunday morning music; big vocals, sweet melodies and delicate strings.

Tom Joshua set the tone for a mellow, highly emotive and intricate set with his new single Cinema, his majestic vocal range and sweet tone bouncing from wall to wall in Westgarth’s cosy downstairs room. Channelling the eclectic Matt Corby with a refreshingly and charming Teesside twang. Notably, Joshua’s ability to write such beautiful and stirring lyrics about the charm and mundanity of his hometown and life itself, in all its simplicity and delicacy, was a really special thing to hear captured on stage. Knock on a Hollow, delivered variation, an up-tempo piece that brought upon impulsive yet necessary toe-tapping. Joshua’s comfort on stage was soothing, wearing no shoes and sparking lots of chit chat with the audience.

Nel Unlit were nothing short of wonderful. Wake For The Dreaming is based upon the graphic novel Worlds’ End from the magnificent Sandman series by Neil Gaiman. The multi-instrumental nine-piece delivered an inventive, eclectic, deeply immersive live show. Instrumentally impressive to say the least, weaving together delicate violins, clarinets, punchy saxophones and majestic cello sounds, effortlessly creating an exciting sound which tore apart traditional genres or expectations. Nel Unlit brought substantial spirit to the Westgarth stage, which matched the likes of Arcade Fire, Bon Iver and Edward Sharp. The cast of artists of which joined the band on different tracks, contributed to the authenticity and diversity of the album’s sound and the narrative structure of the album, each track feeling like a little piece of a big puzzle.

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