One of the special things about live music is the sense of community connecting all in attendance. Being part of a crowd in a shared collective experience is exhilarating. What’s good for an audience is good for the artists too; Hannah Rose Platt and Jess Guise remained together on stage throughout this joint-headline performance and they spoke of how good it felt to not be alone, the importance of being with a friend, supporting one another. The format of this show was hugely successful: Guise and Platt took turns to play small sets, sometimes coming together to sing on one another’s songs. When not performing, each could be seen lost in the other’s music, absorbed and delighting in it. It made for an enchanting evening of fine songs, beautifully sung.
Platt opened with the atmospheric murder ballad ‘Dead Man on the G Train’, the opening track from her recent album, ‘Deathbed Confessions’. Inspired by a trip to New York, it was a stirring performance with changes in vocal style and volume. Breathless at times and others soaring, Platt’s voice was captivating over her warm strum, ringing out from the guitar. It was a strong beginning, followed up by ‘Dancer’ from her 2015 album ‘Portraits’. Full of narrative detail, Platt told us that this had been inspired by Salma Hayek’s character in the film ‘Frida’. Platt’s vocal resonated, controlled, flying high, following a lovely tune over rhythmic guitar.
Guise then stepped forward and drew laughs from the audience when she noted, “Hannah’s songs are all about dead people but mine are all about me!” Platt supported on Guise’s song ‘The Fun Part’, in which the lyrics are not particularly ‘fun’, but those challenging words sounded beautiful. Almost spoken at times, Guise frequently let loose, her voice rising over strong chords. It was quickly clear that these artists had certain attributes in common: they both possess pure voices and switch between vocal styles and volumes, understated melody giving way to rich and rising choruses and surprising bursts of power. Their vocal control was stunning – low then high, loud then quiet, spoken then soaring. Both gave mesmerising performances and complemented the other.
Guise explained that she was, “going to play another song in the weird tuning I made up when I was 15.” ‘Faith’ was altogether more delicate, beginning quietly before growing into a stirring anthem. Again, her words were compelling: “I am godless, I am for sale, // I am forsaken, I am frail. // I am older but I’ve regressed, // I’m not wiser, that’s just bitterness.” Guise recalled that ‘The Fun Part’ EP had been put out in March 2020 with, “spectacularly good timing!” and this humour was evident throughout the show. The gentle melody of ‘Eiderdown’ was next, hypnotic and beautiful, before launching into the upbeat ‘The Boy and the Thief’, one of the highlights of the show. She laughed that the song was, “uncharacteristically not about me but about someone else’s love life.” There was a great, bright strum and flowing, surging currents of melody. The last song of the first act was ‘Where I’ve Been’, requested by Platt and not one that Guise usually performs. Guise’s voice was soft and low over finger-picked guitar. Platt supported and their voices gently wrapped around one another’s. The opening half of the evening had passed quickly.
After a break, during which both artists chatted at the merch stand, Guise continued with ‘High Enough’. Although the album ‘Youngest Daughter’ was recorded during the pandemic lockdowns, this is the only song actually written about that period and was introduced as a, “happy lockdown song,” although Guise didn’t want us to get the wrong idea as she, “fucking hated it!” A lovely vocal melody floated above fluttering strings and her insightful, personal lyrics about lockdown life were easy to relate to. Next up was the infectious, catchy ‘Don’t Come Back’, with its foot-tapping rhythm reinforced by the forceful strum. The lighter finger-picking and softer vocal of ‘Too Far Gone’ was entrancing before Guise introduced her, “sad song…although it’s not like the others are super cheerful!” Again, her welcome humour was as engaging as the next song was, indeed, sad. ‘Brother in Arms’ featured on ‘The Fun Part’ EP and, again, on Guise’s recent album. Back in 2020, Guise told AUK about the story behind this emotive song – check it out here. The songcraft is outstanding in the superbly constructed song, one of my favourites of the last few years. As video editor for AUK, I see a surprising number of videos each day but this one elicited a greater emotional response than most; the combination of open-hearted lyrics about the passing of her father and its impact on her and her brother, alongside old film footage of the family is really affecting. Watching and listening live is no less impactful. This connection between artist and audience is what music, particularly live music, is all about.
With Jess Guise on guitar, Hannah Rose Platt took centre stage again. She said, tongue in cheek, that her intention was to cheer us up but ‘Home for Wayward Dolls’ has a sinister edge to it. Platt’s stepdad likes to send her weird ideas for songs and this one is based on a short documentary about a couple from Kentucky who find dolls and doll-parts that they exhibit around their home. The couple are interested in anthropomorphology – the study of anthropomorphs or human-like objects – particularly the harm done to baby dolls. It’s noted in the documentary that such cruelty towards human-like objects, the trauma and wounds inflicted, is a worldwide phenomenon, but the couple give a home to the damaged and discarded. The upbeat, almost jaunty nature of the song contrasts with the creepy words. It’s a perfect theme for a song by Hannah Rose Platt, whose latest album, ‘Deathbed Confessions’ is a collection of dark, murder-folk. None of the songs are darker and more atmospheric than the next song in the show, ‘The Mermaid and the Sailor’. Platt tends to do a lot of research when writing her songs and this one came from exploring the work of Samuel Pepys, who was a student and collector of ballads. He organised and categorised songs, including songs of the sea. Platt wrote this haunting tale as a metaphor for addiction. On record, it’s a moody duet with Ed Harcourt, reminiscent of Nick Cave and Kylie Minogue’s much-loved ‘Where the Wild Roses Grow’. Such is the quality and control of Platt’s voice that she made it work perfectly well solo. Twisting and turning through the sinister melody, Her sweeping vocal ranges deeply low and reaches ethereal highs.
‘Chanel and Cigarettes’, we were told, was the song that began Platt’s obsession with ghost stories. Based on a story Platt wrote back when she was just ten years old, this tale of adultery was turned into a song, featuring a gorgeous chord progression. Her breathless vocal grew, like the song itself, and this dramatic song was one of the highlights of the evening. The follow-up, ‘Yellow Roses’, was equally effective. A rare song about ‘real’ people – Platt’s grandparents – this was genuine and heartfelt. The delicately beautiful guitar and vocal tunes were captivating and a contrast with the more powerful ‘Feeding Time for Monsters’ that came next. The guitar and Platt’s voice were warm and deep, full and low.
The gorgeously sad ‘1954’ had it all: love, loss, fragility and the passage of time. Platt’s thought-provoking words tell the story, related to Platt by a care-worker friend, of an elderly lady who gets dressed up every day for a date and waits for her husband to pick her up, believing that she’s eighteen again. Desperately heartbreaking and heart-warming at the same time, the humanity of this song is striking. With Guise on backing vocals, the delivery was fabulous, once again. The evening closed with ‘The Book of Love’ by The Magnetic Fields, later covered by Peter Gabriel. It was a perfectly-selected song to showcase the pair’s vocals; Platt and Guise’s voices, both together and apart, were superb and impressively similar to the way they both sound on record. The small, but appreciative, audience was spellbound throughout.
In ‘Youngest Daughter’ and ‘Deathbed Confessions’, Jess Guise and Hannah Rose Platt, respectively, have crafted recently two fine albums that are worth taking the time to absorb fully. In an intimate live setting, such as Three Wise Monkeys, we really get the chance to experience just how talented they are, with the quality of their delivery matching their studio performances. Both possess pristine, elegant voices, expertly controlled and capable of delicate subtlety and sudden, soaring bursts of power. An evening with Guise and Hannah Rose Platt was an evening well-spent – check them out if you get the chance.