Live @ Norwich Arts Centre

Review site: FATEA Magazine

Review author: David Auckland

Date: 20 June 2023

It is almost a year since FATEA reviewed Into the Wilderness, the debut album from Norfolk singer songwriter Eliza Delf.  Recorded by legendary folk figure Jon Loomes at his Talking Cat Studio, Into the Wilderness earned unanimous praise from critics, although some may have wondered whether this young artist, still a student at the University of East Anglia, could reproduce the epic scale of Loomes' studio arrangements on stage with a live band.  On a balmy summer evening, inside the magnificent 14th century setting of St Swithin church, home to Norwich Arts Centre, we were about to find out.

After their walk-on medley of Max Richter's theme to the BBC television series Taboo, and George Fenton's ‘The Message and Main Theme’ from Neil Jordan's 1984 film The Company of Wolves featuring Tusse Silberg reading a translation of Charles Perrault’s Le Petit Chaperon Rouge, Eliza Delf and her five-piece Wilderness Collective - Tim Skinner on drums and percussion, Eva Wright on cello and vocals, Jules Lloyd on bass guitar, Paul Dewbery on electric and acoustic guitars, and Carleton van Selman on keyboards - take to the stage, and launch into their opening track, 'Howl'.

It is a song filled with darkness and drama, a search for freedom and release, and as Delf's vocals rise and soar, the band are with her every step of the way.  The vibrant roar from Norwich Arts Centre's recently upgraded sound system kicks in, and as the rich lighting picks out the detail from Eliza's striking bat-sleeved evening gown, don't let anyone tell you that a streamed recording can come close to the power of a live performance.  Inside the auditorium of this deconsecrated medieval church a force has been unleashed that exceeds even the gothic glory of Eliza's recorded version.

The rest of the songs from Into the Wilderness follow in sequence, starting with the folky 'Stealing My Fear Away', with its ominous William Blake-like overtones, and concluding with the euphoric joy and fortitude of the title track.  In between are the childhood memories of holidays on the Norfolk coast with 'Wavelength'; the folk-noir of 'If She Were To Fall' with its mournful cello solo; the Edgar Allen Poe inspired 'Singing With My Ghosts'; the prog-like 'Heaviness In The Head'; an Angela Carter inspired 'In The Court Of The Queen of Strangeness'; and the rocking 'Penance'.  All the songs have had new life breathed into them by the contributions of the Wilderness Collective, and whilst Eliza Delf's voice may already been compared to Kate Bush, Tori Amos, and even Björk, tonight I am reminded of the operatic clarity of the vocals of Annie Haslam from 70's prog-folk outfit Renaissance.

For an encore there is a stunning cover of the Jefferson Airplane classic, 'White Rabbit', before Eliza Delf is forced to admit that she and the Wilderness Collective had now exhausted their entire repertoire of rehearsed songs. The evening has, though, been an indisputable success, and a triumph for this talented young artist whose Bright Sparks award from the University of East Anglia has proved worthy beyond doubt.

Opening support came from prolific local songwriter Alex Hawkins, who alternated between electric and acoustic guitar and, with bass guitar and drums backing, managed to rock like the Kings of Leon, wring emotions like Dylan and Springsteen, and display the sensitivity of Nick Drake, all within the space of a seven-song set. Another one to watch, and a brilliant evening all round.


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