This has been a massive weekend for live music in London. Hyde Park closed out BST with Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen and Lana Del Rey. Blur packed 180,000 into Wembley Stadium on successive nights, and if urban beats are your thing, Finsbury Park and Wireless had them in abundance.
With all that going on, it would be easy to overlook another series of July concerts taking place in the heart of the capital. The Somerset House Summer Series kicked off on 6th July with French psych-rockers La Femme. It closes ten days later with Afropop star Gabzy. And tonight, on day four of the series we have an appointment with a queen of trip hop electronica, Alison Goldfrapp.
Alison Goldfrapp Somerset House 090723-001
Whilst the big venues mentioned above have audiences extending over several hectares, Somerset House has a perfectly formed sense of scale and a capacity for outdoor music concerts of 3400. It’s just about perfect. Big enough to know you’re at an event; small enough to feel genuinely intimate. The building in its current form was built in 1775. It boasts gorgeous Georgian architecture on three sides, surrounding a central cobbled courtyard with a gentle slope front to back that you just know was designed with hosting EDM gigs in mind.
Tonight (as with all bar one of the series) is a sell-out, though where I position myself at the back there is plenty of room to move and an extremely relaxed vibe. There’s no prospect of rain, the temperature is perfect, and we’re all looking forward to an evening of music to match the chilled-out mood.
At 9pm, Alison emerges into the light in a full-length dress so sparkling with sequins that I’d imagine she could be seen from space. For the past 24 years, she has been part-owner with composer and keyboard player Will Gregory of the electronic synth-pop duo that bears her name. Earlier this year she announced a solo project and her debut album The Love Invention was released in May.
She wastes no time in sharing the latest music by opening with a brace from the new record; Hotel (Suite 23) and Love Invention. This is not a solo project revealing Goldfrapp to be a frustrated metalhead stuck for over two decades in the wrong band. There are no dramatic changes in direction if I’m honest and The Love Invention could easily be an eighth Goldfrapp album. If you want to draw a distinction, the new material has a little less of an industrial Tubeway Army vibe and a little more of everything else. A bit more dancey, a bit more trancey, a bit more ambienty. Not sure those are actual words but you get the idea.
Whatever it is, as it fills the void in the Somerset House courtyard, it couldn’t be more perfect for a balmy summer’s evening with a setting sun casting a glorious pink hue above. We could easily be in the Balearics.
Alison’s movements compliment the music perfectly. She glides across the stage as if in slow motion and her arms clad in elegant opera gloves swirl around her head with ethereal grace. It’s all in distinct contrast to her two (latterly three) dancers who operate in the background voguing staccato moves.
There’s contrast aplenty in the audience too, which is extremely eclectic. To my left, some ladies in summer dresses that look like they’ve come directly from SW19 tap their feet whilst sipping G&T’s. To my right, a heavily tattooed man in Ben Sherman is losing his shit. The froth on the top of his San Miguel looks like it’s experiencing a Force 9.
As well as the dancers and Goldfrapp herself the band consists of Evelyn May stage right on keys and drummer Seb Sternberg stage left, who sits behind what appears to be a traditional acoustic kit that makes very electric sounds. May occasionally comes to the front with a keytar around her neck. She certainly rocks it on the Goldfrapp classic Rocket, even finding time to bang her head, Eddie Van Halen style. It’s a tune which closes the main set and has the entire crowd singing in unison.
It’s one of a few top Goldfrapp tunes played tonight. Believer, Ride A White Horse and Number 1 are others that stand out. There’s also time to play Impossible, Alison’s collaboration with Röyksopp, who let’s face it, are essentially Goldfrapp, only in Norwegian.
But it’s the new songs that get a preferential roll-out. Towards the end of the set, we get five from The Love Invention on the trot: SloFlo, The Beat Divine, Gatto Gelato, NeverStop and In Electric Blue all channel that more dance-oriented groove through the courtyard. As darkness envelopes our surroundings, the building is cast in beautiful red, orange and purple hues. It almost feels like a fourth member of the band.
For the encore, Alison has spawned the full-length sparkles for a shorter version in the same vein; though she’s still shimmering for England. She’s matched by glittering pyrotechnics, both behind her on the stage and overhead. There’s time for two more; one old, one new. Strict Machine is a classic from the Goldfrapp back catalogue which commands from the start with a keyboard riff that just like the outfit nods in the direction of 70’s glam rock. Fever (This Is The Real Thing) from the new record then transports us forward half a century and drops us into a Ibizan sunset. It’s a beautiful place to end our evening.
Review of Alison Goldfrapp at Somerset House Summer Series on 9th July 2023 by Sally Reed. Photography by Musical Pictures.