Singer-songwriter Poppy Holmes opened the evening at Night & Day Café with an infectiously charming set. She may describe herself as “young and confused”, but Holmes’ songwriting is decidedly sophisticated. Holmes is the daughter of Catherine Russel, who played Doctor Serena Campbell in the BBC’s Holby City. With her swing lullaby style and acting family background, it is tempting to compare her to Lily Allen.
Her supporting band were talented musicians and allowed Holmes to shine. She wore a floral shirt with round golden buttons and her red hair was blown out in a ’70s fringe. The performance was both quaintly English and deeply emotive. Exceptionally moving was her rendition of ‘Friend For Life’, a ballad about sexual assault in the music industry. “Turning off the light, this does not feel right.” Her lyrics were chilling. Drawing on personal experience, Holmes took the audience through a heartrending narrative of the horrific prevalence of systemic abuse.
Her final song was a knee-bending mood lifter about conspiracy theories. The audience laughed along as she told them the beliefs of the theorist who inspired the song. Apparently, Joe Biden has been replaced by a clone and is being kept alive in a secret prison because he was soul-bonded to his doppelgänger. Who knew? Smiles rose throughout the crowd as she playfully shouted and screamed the final song into the microphone. Holmes currently only has one song on Spotify, but you can find many older performances on her YouTube channel.
The joyous atmosphere at Night & Day Café continued with the entrance of the Moulettes. More of an evolving musical family than a band, the Moulettes refuse to follow the rules of commercial success or the confines of a single musical genre. Combining elements of folk, indie, art-rock, pop and prog, they have always strived to diversify and experiment with their sound. Hannah Miller provided vocals, guitar and cello, which was angular and beautifully crafted from pale wood. She scattered the set with comedy and facts. “Stalin learnt theremin,” she told the crowd, “he wasn’t very good though”.
The Moulettes are currently working on their 5th studio album – the avant-garde and unapologetically unmarketable, Xenolalia, a collection of songs each reimagined in 5 different ways: electronic, rock, acoustic, a capella and horns. The title can be broken down into two parts, Miller explained to the crowd: ‘Xeno’, meaning stranger and ‘Lalia’, meaning talk. Together they refer to the ability to speak a language without any prior knowledge. Through a total of 55 songs, this eccentric vision explores themes of communication and improvisation.
The multi-instrumentalists list their key influences as Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Björk and Pink Floyd. They run to the beat of a jig, music to rock out to while dancing around a maypole in a white flowing dress. Although the category of World Music is largely meaningless, they would be suited to the main stage of WOMAD festival.
Their performance had all the polish and confidence of experienced professionals. In fact, the Moulettes played Night & Day Café 15 years ago, alongside fellow English rockers the Mystery Jets and Noisettes. New addition Raevennan Husbandes harmonised beautifully with Hannah Miller and provided cinematic guitar riffs that would not be out of place on the score of a James Bond movie.
The audience were stunned by the breadth of their talent, with sound ranging from operatic to electronic. In order to showcase the Xenolalia project, Miller asked the crowd to part and the band left the stage to perform an entirely a capella string section in the middle of the venue. They brought with them an irresistible sense of community and a passion for musical innovation and bringing joy.