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wardruna05Royal Festival Hall, Southbank, London, UK
17th March 2022
Wardruna & Jo Quail

Tonight I had the pleasure of going to see WARDRUNA play their Nordic delights by the River Thames at the Royal Festival Hall. For those of you that don’t know, the venue is part of a sprawling and architecturally brutalist complex on the south side of the river that was built during the early 1950s to house the Festival Of Britain. It is located on the left side of the Waterloo Bridge approach and consists of The Hayward Gallery and The Purcell Rooms. The last time I saw a gig here was around 23 years ago when Brian Ferry played.

So, on this visit I had to walk around a bit to regain my bearings. It’s a big place. It’s nothing really to look at on the outside but on the inside, it is spacious and airy with pleasing ambient lighting in the foyer / bar area. The actual performance area is cavernous and reminded me of the Senate Chamber in ‘Star Wars: The Phantom Menace’. The only thing that was missing was the floating speaker’s podiums! The bar had a good selection of ales and wines, all at a reasonable price. But alas, once again, no imagination when it comes to non-alcoholic beer. If Becks is your non-alcoholic beverage of choice, then you are in luck! If not then you’ll have to buy a pint of coke with a dash of Camden Hells to give it a bit of a kick.

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There’s also an old lady (or for those with pc proclivities, a lady of more experienced years) walking around with a sign that had a “NO PHOTOGRAPHY!” sign on it! Yeah, as if I was going to take any notice of that! I didn’t have my phone out for all of the gig, I took it out at various points during the sets to take some shots and then the phone returned to my pocket. Anyway, on to the show…


Jo Quail

JO QUAIL came onto the stage to polite applause and to, I’d guess, an 80% full auditorium and after a quick set up and tune she started off her set with ‘Rex Infractus’ before moving onto one of my favourite pieces, ‘Gold’. The openness and warm solitude of this track gets me every time I hear it. It’s moving, not in an emotional sense but in a physical and spiritual sense. It’s like a revolving wheel with barbs on it that grab you if you get close and then propel you forward, forever forward. The last piece tonight was, oh what was it? Damn! The ‘Adderstone’. This track shows off the virtuosity and creative flare of the artist. The inspired and intelligent use of the Boss RC600 Looping Station plus the nimbleness of fingers and speedy caress of the bow. This track is not only mesmeric of eye but mesmeric of ear. I highly recommend Jo Quail to the unacquainted ear so here is a link for you to follow: https://www.joquail.co.uk/. Jo swiftly departs the stage to appreciative hand claps to make way for…

Setlist
01. Rex Infractus
02. Gold
03. Adderstone

Rating
Music: 9
Performance: 9
Light: 8
Sound: 10
Total: 9 / 10

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Wardruna

WARDRUNA, who enter the stage area in shadow and take their positions behind antler, drum, mike stand and Tagelharpa. By this time the venue is full to capacity. The stalls, the balcony and the boxes to the sides were ready for the journey ahead, here we go! The set starts with a large projection of a white raven; we all know the set opener will be ‘kvitravn’. Squawks and caws echo around the auditorium and then the Tagelharpa resonances begin. I immediately close my eyes and start swaying from neck up as I astral project to a mountain and see ravens hover and swoop over the trees below. ‘Skugge’ (‘Shadow’) resonates with me currently for various reasons, my shadow is awakening from a slumber and is becoming agitated. There’s an ominous predictive vibe to this track, hot and cold dancing a duel around each other, neither giving ground. The simple but very effective lighting gives the atmosphere along with the textured drapes behind the performers and stage left and right. This simple device gives some depth and meaning to the piece. ‘Solringen’ energises the fertile rebirth of ‘Bjarkan’ and ‘Raido’ prepares for journey after rebirth.

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I’ll pause to note that at around this time in the proceedings two women in front of me won’t shut the hell up with their talking so some chap in the row in front of them turns around and tersely shushes them. They were quieter from that point forward. Anyway, back to the show. When I saw WARDRUNA a few years back I came away from that experience with shivers running down my spine and a glassy eyed contentment. The venue on that occasion was The Union Chapel which is designed for choral singing that bounces and reverberates around the nooks and crannies of that religious building with a clarity of cut glass. Here within the Royal Festival Hall what you have is an expansive space that allows the sounds to spread and breathe but without clogged up reverb. The building plus the efforts of the sound guys facilitated a clean but powerful experience that I especially appreciated when LINDY FAY HELLA was given free reign to do her thing on tracks like ‘Bjarkan’. The quality of the Yoik style vocals also has a native American spiciness to it which is just awesome! On ‘Raido’ the vocal purity shines through for both Ainar and Lindy.

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The dangerously icy ‘Isa’ is like a creaking ice sheet that deceives one to the dangers of the cold deep rip currents of the water underneath; Lindy sings the song of a siren that stops the flow of rational thought. You are shackled to the chains of danger. The drum’s regular rhythm holds you in the aural embrace. And then the lower frequencies of Ainar resonate through you like a saw. Do you know that scene in film ‘Interview With A Vampire’ where the audience is in the thrall of the vampires pretending to be humans pretending to be vampires in the Theatres Des Vampires? ‘Isa’ would fit in there perfectly. ‘Voluspa’ is the midway point. We move away from runes for the moment into the arena of skaldic poetry. Just voice, Norse verbosity and Kravikharpa to weave a web of sounds in a manner that’s as marvellous as a spider weaving a web. Skill and symmetry and meticulous metre, wood and sinewy string, o what a story he does sing! The show is now on the back straight, now nearing the final bend.

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‘Lyfjaberg’, from the old Norse meaning “healing Hill” is next, it starts with a drone followed by a drum beat and voices that elevate like voices presenting themselves through a snowstorm, softly getting louder. Einar Selvik’s voice is ethereal and soothing as accented strums ring out from the Kraviklyre. I close my eyes and stare at the wonder of the mountain and its healing properties. I want to climb it and offer votives in return for its regenerative powers. On we go through the choral exclamations and incantations of ‘Tyr’ the rune of Tuesday and the god of courage who allowed Fenrir to bite his right hand off in order to bind the wolf’s chaotic force. ‘Fehu’ which is a warming track. The rune means good health, love fulfilled, good fortune. It’s the God Frey’s rune. It seems like a fitting penultimate track to play as it alludes to good fortune, fortune gained through hard work and the abundance of unselfishness! ‘Helvengen’ ended the proceedings. It’s a warm goodbye before we cross over to the other side when we die. But also in this case it could be “Fair well, safe journey as you exit the doors and journey your way home”. The ravens are back for ‘Rotlaust Tre Fell’. This one of my all-time favourites. It’s like a calling, a call to arms, the world is ending and all beings are needed to stop the World Tree falling, there’s still time.

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‘Uruz’, the rune of strength and masculinity, mental strength or femininity and fertility, slowly punches the air with the drum beat and the piercing screeches of the Gjallarhorn. It slices holes in the air that would instil fear into an army on a battlefield if only heard and the source of the sound not seen. The vocal pleads as a bull roarer swings through the air biting at its molecules with grittish determination. I’m well and truly hypnotised! ‘Gra’ haunts the hall with LINDY FAY HELLA’s vocal being the fulcrum that holds this piece together. All other sounds flicker and splinter from around it, this is just sublime! Short but sublime! ‘Vindavlarjod’ is a string led track with Ainar Selvik’s vocal piggybacking. It feels as if the strings are flying too, the vocal imbibed with a subtle “taking off” quality to it as if it’s also just about to take flight itself but then doesn’t! And then it goes off again. But I don’t find it stop start the execution, there’s a flow to it that’s not off putting!

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The end! No not quite because we have just enough time for a run through of ‘Snake Pit Poetry’. Written about Lothbrok’s encounter with the snake pit after his capture by Northumbrian King Aelle. This version has no embellishment, it’s just Einar, his voice and the Kraviklyre. The piece has a haunting, authentic stripped-down vibe to it which gets you to the nub of the message. What’s the message? Resigned defiance! My battle has been lost but I’m not going down meekly. This is the measure of the man! Is it the measure of us all? Now it is the end! In summary, yes, this is the best WARDRUNA set I’ve witnessed since the first one around four years ago. The venue was well chosen for the event, it fitted in perfectly with the aesthetic of the band, the sound was superb, the visuals were simple but superb. Everything was well mixed and choreographed together with no rough edges to dull the experience. I’m satisfied. https://www.wardruna.com

Setlist
01. Kvitravn
02. Skugge
03. Solringen
04. Bjarkan
05. Heimta Thurs
06. Raido
07. Isa
08. Voluspa (Skaldic Version)
09. Lyfjaberg (The Healing Hill)
10. Tyr
11. Fehu
12. Rotlaust Tre Fell (The Rootless Tree Falls)
13. UruR
14. Gra
15. Odal
16. Helvegen
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17. Snake Pit Poetry

Rating
Music: 9
Performance: 9
Light: 9
Sound: 9
Total: 9 / 10

All Pictures by Claudia Black

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