Review: Her Name is Calla

Originally published on Weds 30 March 2011 at

Left Bank Leeds

Sunday 27 March


There’s a huge building in Leeds that, I think, is well on its way to being a legendary music venue.  You might not know about it – it’s not highlighted as a tourist attraction, nor is it in the trendiest part of the city.  It’s also a church.  And no, it’s not Halo…

Welcome to Left Bank Leeds: formerly the St. Margaret of Antioch church, a huge, Gothic-style building, constructed at the turn of the 1900s for the mill-workers of Hyde Park.  Looming over the chimneypots of this modern-day student metropolis, the austere brick structure strikes an imposing sight when approaching it in the dark.  Step inside, and you’re treated to something that’s more akin to the inside of a cathedral than a church: vaulted arches, huge columns and a giant stained glass window at one end.

The story of Left Bank Leeds begins in 1995.  Faced with a dwindling congregation, a decision was made to close the church, which remained abandoned for over a decade.  Fast forward to 2008, and a group of dedicated local people began the task of restoring the building, giving it a new lease of life as a performing arts centre and community space.

Tonight’s pretty chilly, and Left Bank has seemingly little in the way of heating, but that’s not stopped a good hundred people or so turning out to witness a performance of atmospheric, brooding music.  The stage is set on what I imagine was once the altar, with a scattering of seats and tables in place of pews before it.  The venue and the music couldn’t be more ideally suited – there’s a five-second natural reverb in the building, the arches and columns adding a real atmosphere to the ghostly whispers to opener Alicia Merz, aka Birds of Passage.

Hailing from New Zealand, Alicia plays guitar, keyboard and occasionally goes off to twiddle with a laptop.  Her voice is scarcely a whisper, sounding a little like Vashti Bunyan, but that’s where the similarity ends.  I’m not sure how she’s doing it (and I don’t wish to sound like a granddad by calling it ‘new-fangled electronic trickery’), but over a few minutes she carefully introduces layers of sound on sound, each layer blending gracefully into the next – the reverb slowly rising, creating an eerie barrage of faded chord fragments.  This is the sort of music that I think would be impossible to not sound good in a church building, as it is inextricably shaped by the fascinating acoustics of the space.

After a break, and a trip to the bar for a joyously warm cup of tea, the hotly-anticipated Her Name is Calla take to the stage.  Although signed to the German Denovali label, the six-piece come from a combination of Leeds, Leicester and York, and are tonight beginning an epic tour of Europe with Birds of Passage.  They play a range of instruments – with a trombone, banjo and violin all popping up – shifting from delicate ambient musings  to explosive ear-splitting cacophony without warning, unfolding a series of vast aural soundscapes through crashing guitars, booming drums and haunting vocals.

Hailed by no less an authority than Drowned in Sound as ‘one of the UK’s most daring and unconventional bands’, I found their set to be not so much a performance but an experience – the waves of sound multiplying and bouncing around the old church walls before cascading down with an epic crash of cymbals and noise.

In conclusion, then: ‘twas a cracking night.  Expect to hear great things spoken about Her Name is Calla very soon indeed.

  • Her Name Is Calla’s new album, The Quiet Lamb, is out now on Denovali Records.

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