Aqualung, MK Stables

January 28th, 2004

This intimate performance marked the start of what will hopefully be a year in which I see much more live music. And what a way to kick of the year. Not only do Aqualung hail from my home town of Southampton (thus automatically grating them exclusive license to a place in my heart) but they also conjure up some of the most celestial, awe-inspiring music of the twenty-first century.

It’s hard to believe that they’re just two albums into their career when the singer, Matt Hales, exudes an easy confidence of some of the more established performers. Indeed the witty banter between songs would almost have you doing a double take on whether it was actually a reborn Dudley Moore perched behind the ivories. A cursory glance at the Aqualung website would reveal that Matt is two years into his thirties and has been actively involved in music throughout his life. It shows. He and his brother Ben have the rare ability to understate the music so on first listen there seems to be relatively little going on. However, delve a little deeper and the subtle understatements reveal and almost architectural attention to detail in sonic subtlety that tugs at far away locked up emotions you’d long forgotten. Of course we heard the song from the VW advert “Strange and Beautiful” but we also had a Beach Boys cover and a splattering of tracks from the new album which I must confess, I am yet to purchase. Believe me, it’s now on the wishlist. This was an ‘intimate’ performance and for once was performed by a group that actually suited the all-seated Stables. There were plenty of Jokes at the expense of the town planners of Milton Keynes but even Matt had some fondness for the venue ‘Zaks’ (in Wolverton) where he had once played.

This was contrary to support Act Bic Runga who was plainly bemused by the ‘android designed’ city, proclaiming she’s spent the last hour ‘going round one of your roundabouts’. Seemingly dizzy and disorientated she almost stumbled upon the stage, giggled a little and gave off the aura of a startled rabbit in the headlights. However once she plugged in her guitar and opened her mouth some truly beautiful words and melodies began to spill from within. I’d not heard of her before but Stephen and Shay were one up on me, having heard the American Pie soundtrack that one of her numbers, ‘Sway’ is to be found on. Her style is kind of folksy, sparse and with emphasis on the song. I’m trying to think who she reminds me of. I can’t think of anybody and that’s a plus in my eyes.

The other support act I wasn’t so keen on. A Belfast lad by the name of Duke (or Juke?) Special provided a number of songs to slit your wrists to to kick off the evening’s entertainment. There can be no denying the range in his voice but it just wasnÂ’t for me. Still, in an age where style so often buries content, if was refreshing to hear three modern songwriters open their hearts to an all-embracing audience. A thoroughly enjoyable evening.