When it was announced that The Irrepressibles were playing a June show in a secret venue, we naturally wondered what venue would be chosen to dazzle the audience. Our previous experience of The Irrepressibles live was their ambitious and opulent show at the Barbican in January 2011, which confirmed frontman Jamie McDermott as one of the most intriguing, creative and accomplished of contemporary musicians. Therefore, when Kilburn community arts space The Albert was announced as the location, it was clear that a very different show would be on offer to the lucky 120 audience members.
We’re chaperoned in small groups through to a basketball hall where an a capella group, singing in beautiful choral harmony, form an aisle for us to walk down and through to the main performance space. This room is smaller, darker and less intimidating than the austere white of the echoing sports hall, with seats surrounding the square performance space on all four sides.
Each corner of the square is filled with a band member, violinist, cellist, drummer and keyboard player, while Jamie McDermott appears in a painted leather jacket in the centre. The mysterious figure of McDermott interacts and jokes with his audience. He starts with a preview of several new songs including the track ‘So’ before playing a selection of songs from the impressive albums Mirror Mirror and Nude. McDermott sings with deep then operatic falsetto tones and makes use of his choral singers sitting in the audience, who provide harmonious accompaniment on ‘Ship’, ‘Nuclear Skies’ and the triumphant ‘Two Men In Love’.
A stripped-back keyboard version of ‘Arrow’ is perfect for the community hall setting. The intimacy of the space links the audience to the band and allows us to witness the developing musical layers in the understated ‘I’ll Maybe Let You’ then the powerful cello and violin in the dizzying crescendo of ‘In This Shirt’ that gloriously ends the performance.
McDermott’s jovial audience interaction shows a lighter, and very likeable, side to his public persona, but the fragility that compelled us to his music in the first place remains, as he begins his encore of ‘Ship’ with genuine tears of humility in his eyes. There is a definite sense in the audience that another side of The Irrepressibles has been witnessed tonight, and the cheering calls for an encore by the audience show that they welcome it with open (and clapping) hands.
By Joe Preston Carroll