Gig Review: Gemma Hayes (@Hackney Oslo – 14/01/2015)

Gemma Hayes returns to Hackney Oslo as part of the promotional campaign for her current album Bones and Longing

Review by Mark Kelly

(Pictures by Lorenzo Arena)


Gemma Hayes returns to Hackney Oslo as part of the promotional campaign for her current album Bones and Longing, and at least partially as a replacement for a gig that she had to cancel because of illness in November 2014.

As support act Gemma has bravely chosen Milly Upton. I say ‘bravely’ as on tonight’s showing it is highly likely that Milly will become her generation’s Joni Mitchell. She certainly is capable of the vocal gymnastics that attract the comparison.
She is a very assured performer, with well chosen covers (Dylan’s Si Tu Dois Partir for example) and the confidence to incite crowd sing-alongs on material that the audience were hearing for the first time. Whilst Milly’s voice has the purity of a young Joni Mitchell, at times it also has a ‘cracked’ quality reminiscent of Janis Joplin. One to watch for the future methinks.

Gemma takes the stage with her band and give us an opening one-two of Waiting For You (which appeared on the limited edition live album Night And Day) and Shock To The System from 2011’s Let It Break. Apparently both of these songs were written on the same day using the same chords. Not that you’d know.

Tonight is the first gig that Gemma and her band have played together. I can only assume that she has been rehearsing them very hard indeed as they sound as if they’ve been playing together for years. They play with sensitivity when required to do so, but can pile on the power when needed as well. They’re a sympathetic band who serve the songs.

The bulk of the set is made up of material from Bones and Longing and Let It Break. The only track from 2002 debut Night On My Side is Back Of My Hand which makes an appearance early in the set. This is the only sop thrown to long term fans. This is not a problem though as the most recent couple of albums are excellent and deserve to be well represented. Ruin from Let It Break is sung by Gemma without guitar.

This serves to emphasise how exposed she seems as she sings what certainly appears to be an intensely personal song. Another deeply personal song is Dark Moon, which is delivered as the final encore. This is about being pregnant but not knowing it, simply having a feeling that “something was going to happen”.
It’s all over in a little over an hour. Gemma Hayes has a back catalogue of material which really is an embarrassment of riches. Had she chosen to, she could have played a much longer set. However, one of the secrets of performing is to leave the audience wanting more. And we certainly did.