Lafayette, London N1, Friday 11th November 2022
First a little context. In February 2021, the formerly Bucks-based South London quartet Bleach Lab had a track voted into the Fresh Faves. Old Ways was haunting, imaginative and dynamic, a real stand-out track. Within two months it had found its way onto the playlist of BBC Radio 6 Music and the rest, as they say, is history. History, however, very much still in the making. Several EPs have established them as an exciting force in Indie and Dream Pop. It seems highly likely that 2023 will see their debut album arrive.
I have arguably chosen the wrong time to head across river and town from South East London to Kings Cross with both legs of my train journey affected by delays and cancellations. As a consequence I arrive an hour after doors open. It doesn’t help that new venue Lafayette is tucked away with a modest sign nestling among a list of businesses. I walk past it twice before noticing. To enter, after having my ticket scanned, I have to go through a food bar and turn left. Once inside, I am impressed. I find myself on a two tier balcony with seating (a big issue as someone with invisible disabilities). They also have one of my sugar free fizzy drinks of choice. Us diabetics are rarely well catered for at gig venues. I can watch the gig in comfort and get some decent shots of the bands. Even the toilets are pleasant, clean and plentiful.
I am not entirely sure whether I have missed a support band. If so, they must have gone on extremely early because Slaney Bay are already on stage when I arrive. I reviewed the South West London trio in the September edition of my blog after they sent I Could Love You Better to Fresh On The Net. On that occasion I commented on their tight instrumental interplay and the ethereal quality of Caitlin Whitley’s voice. Live, those elements are very much in evidence. Caitlin’s guitar style is more driving and chord-based, interlocking with the fluid style of Bass Guitarist and backing singer Joel Martin and powerful drum parts. Lead Guitarist William Nicola-Thompson adds considerable colour and melodic ideas. But don’t mistake Caitlyn’s soft distinctive tone for any lack of power. At times her voice soars and she holds centre stage with an energetic performance, The band are clearly enjoying themselves and the audience show their appreciation of their brand of uplifting Alt Rock mixing with Dream Pop and Psychedelic influences.
The penultimate track is the single LS6, inspired by Caitlin’s experience of arriving at Leeds University as a student facing the challenges of early adulthood. It is a big tune and brings the house down. They end with a slightly slower, dreamier track that brings out all their most impressive characteristics. It has been a joyous and invigorating performance. I really hope the experience of touring and getting their music in front of new audiences will make a major contribution to what happens next for Slaney Bay.
The momentum behind Bleach Lab is in full swing. I seem to have seen so many images of them over recent months that it is actually quite surreal seeing them walk onto the stage. They burst straight into a punchy rendition of Obviously and the scene is set. Bass Guitarist Josh Longman and Drummer Shawn Courtney are a watertight rhythm section. Their stop-start figures punctuate the tracks. Sometimes they play in a fairly free style. At other times they drive events forward, the drums subtly syncopated and the bass hammering out root notes. Upon this foundation, guitarist Frank Wates is able to stretch out, his reverberant sound, jangling figures and light touch recalling two of my favourites Johnny Marr and Robin Guthrie. Singer Jenna Kyle has a highly distinctive and rich alto voice. On stage she cuts a cool charismatic figure, all in black with a mic stand that has multiple flashing lights!
There are moments when Jenna’s intonation is a little iffy but, in her defence, it can be hard to accurately pick out the notes when you are responding to the instruments and a tonne of reverb in the monitors. In any case, any small tuning issues are more than compensated for by her velvet-toned voice and her expressive, agile performance. If You Only Feel It Once is otherworldly and exquisite. Real Thing is yearning and energetic. I Could Be Your Safe Place is majestic. When Frank hits the opening guitar figure of Old Ways the audience roar their approval. The version that ensues gives me butterflies. At the end of the set, the fans have a good go at getting an encore and it looks, for a moment, like the band might be about to come back on but then the house lights and music come on. Not to worry. It has been a stunning set and it is so pleasing to see how they have continued to fly since that fresh faves moment a year and nine months ago. 2023 should be a big year for Bleach Lab.