Bella Union’s 20th Anniversary Tour: The Lantern, Colston Hall, Bristol

Record label celebrating its birthday with 3 of its acts, Will Stratton, Pavo Pavo and Mammut in the most visited & beloved venue I’ve been to so far on this journey.

I won tickets in a competition so gig 17 was already awesome simply by dint of being free! I had eyed up this as a possible gig earlier in the year so was very pleased to win tickets and be able to go. I’ll confess to have not heard of any of the bands, or the label beforehand, but discovering new music live is one of the reasons for all of this and so far every chance I’ve taken has proved to be worthwhile.

There was no act in the main hall so the venue was strangely quiet. And I was early. So I had a cup of coffee in the bar (I know, rock n roll behaviour right there). I went with a friend who did know Bella Union and Mammut and was also grateful of the free ticket. Thank you Colston Hall for drawing my name out of the hat.

First on was Will Stratton. Singer/songwriter with a guitar. Just my kind of thing I thought. And he was. Oh boy he was. The man can play a mean guitar. It was like he was trying, and succeeding in playing half a dozen styles of music all at once, by himself. Add in heartfelt lyrics and a lovely voice and I was sold.

Then Pavo Pavo who were so hip it almost hurt. All handlebar moustaches, coordinated outfits (with a nod to mod) and excellent musicianship. Lovely harmonies, great playing & sonically interesting but I didn’t feel it. And I have to feel music to love it. Sorry Pavo Pavo. I can respect you as musicians and songwriters (there was plenty to admire) but I didn’t fall in love.

Our final act was Mammut. Who I honestly thought I wouldn’t like. Icelandic heavy rock, not really my scene. Or so I thought. Three fifths of Mammut are women. Singer. Bass player. And guitarist. I’ve tried, where possible, to seek out female musicians for 40 gigs so show sisterly solidarity & it was so good to see a band not just fronted by a woman but with female musicians too. When you see yourself represented you are more likely to feel included – if I’d seen a band like Mammut when I was 17 maybe I’d have learnt to play guitar. Who knows. I just know I like it when I see myself reflected.

I liked the look of them, would I like the sound of them? Oh yes. Oh yes I would. And did. So much more than I was expecting to. I did not know that what my life needed was Icelandic rock music before tonight. But I do now. And I am sold. Sold on the wall of sound, sold on the beauty of her voice (especially when she sang in Icelandic – that was aces), sold on the sheer heaviness of the music with driving bass, drums and guitars, sold on the aural assault of traditional rock. There is wonder in contrast, the soft & gentle speaking voice giving rise to the power and volume of the singing voice being backed by heavy yet groove inducing music. It just worked. And came together to make me rock out and move my old body about in time. They were amazing.

Thank you Colston Hall for the opportunity to be there, thank you Bella Union for showcasing such wonderful talent and thank you to all three bands. Gig 17 gave me so much more than I was expecting it to.

17 down. 23 to go.



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