Hannah James and the Jigdoll Ensemble

Kings Place, London

5 October 2019

I saw Hannah James in this venue six months ago playing support to The Shee, where, according to what I wrote at the time, she stole the show. The sort of performer you have to see rather than just hear, and then you have to see again.

So here I am to see her again. Two things are different this time: first, she's the headline act and playing a full 90-minute set; second, she's not playing solo but is with her band, The Jigdoll Ensemble.

One of the wondrous things about that last concert was how creatively and cleverly she created dense layers of music and percussion as a solo performer. The approach tonight was different because she didn't need to do it all herself, but it was no less creative and clever, as the musicians beautifully bring her songs to life. And the extra possibilities of their talents are used to the full. The way percussionist Andras Des complements her dancing is mind-boggling; every part of his body seems to be used to make a rhythm, and their percussion duets are the highlights of the show. Marti Tarn's delicate electric bass guitar playing beautifully carries the melody while all this rhythmic stuff is going on, blending perfectly with Kate Young's fiddle and Hannah James's accordion (in the rare moments when she's sitting down to play it). And Kate Young's distinctive voice was the perfect choice to harmonise with Hannah's—nobody does wordless vocal lines better. Every element of this concert worked perfectly.

The whole show is mesmerising, visually as well as musically. Hannah James is just an extraordinary performer in every way.

And in my last review I talked about her dancing and singing and accordion playing, but I forgot to call out her biggest talent: her writing. When I first saw her on stage five years ago, she was playing other people's songs and I'm sure she actually said "I don't write songs". Well, maybe I dreamed that, because it's completely untrue. Anyone who can write powerful, hard-hitting songs like Hush Now or The Woman and Her Words belongs in the very top ranks of modern song writers.

When I come out of a gig simultaneously grinning at the cleverness of the performance and emotionally drained by the content of the music—well, that's how I know it was the best concert I've ever seen.

In case you can't tell, I am really quite impressed with Hannah James.