She walks on stage looking pale and enervated, like a ghostly image of heroin chic. Just what have they done to Thea Gilmore? Then two songs in she reveals she's "got the lurgy, big time". It turns out she's been taking nothing stronger than herbal tea to keep the flu at bay.
Photos of morris dancers adorn this home of the English Folk Dance & Song Society, and the atmosphere is pin-drop reverent as the Prince's legions gather. Floorboards creak, glasses clink, and someone actually tiptoes. No wonder Will Oldham's first act is to wince, then hurl us into his world of gore, spunk, death and cunnilingus.
The mountain man who tore up British stages last time round has been replaced tonight by a straight-backed loner in the smart-casual dress of the conscientious worker.
There are few bands, it seems, as disaster-prone as Shack. Ravaged by narcotics, crippled by debt (the sleevenotes to their third album HMS Fable infamously thanked Cash Converters) and nearly torpedoed by missing master tapes and missed opportunities, this Liverpool outfit clearly monopolise the anti-Midas touch. Matters were not helped three years ago when London Records pulled the contractual plug as well.
From Melbourne via LA, Horse Stories' frontman Toby Burke stands alone, and sends his lovely voice soaring up into the Union Chapel's vaulted darkness. He's essentially a singer-songwriter dressed in country raiment, but it fits him well. His is an elegant melancholy; peals of electric guitar lapping against his songs like a mournful tide. You feel he deserves an orchestra.
Grand Drive's Julian and Danny Wilson were originally from Australia, but grew up in south London.