Live Review: Bear’s Den + Emma Gatrill, Union Chapel, London – 27th November 2023

Photo by Chas Lacey

The official line-up of Bear’s Den consists of Andrew Davie and Kevin Jones but set up ready on stage were trumpets, guitars, piano, a banjo and in pride of place, a golden harp – clearly, this would be a concert featuring many more musicians. The second of four sold-out shows at this working chapel, and with unreserved seating, the wooden pews were filled soon after the doors opened.

With a different support act for each of the four nights, the harp belonged to tonight’s guest, Brighton-based Emma Gatrill, a multi-instrumentalist who benefited from the full house as she delivered an innovative and well-received set. She was accompanied by violinist Andrew Stuart Buttle and the versatile Marcus Hamblett, who produced her recent EP and was shortly to return to the stage with Bear’s Den.

Greeted by a rapturous welcome and fresh from their North American tour, Bear’s Den lined up with Davie taking centre-stage for ‘Frightened Whispers’, a song from their 2022 album, ‘Blue Hours’. Sharing the spotlight were Kevin Jones on bass and Dutch multi-instrumentalist Christof van der Ven, not a full-time member of the band but indispensable to their stage show.

Photo by Chas Lacey

‘Laurel Wreath’ was next, from the 2019 record, ‘So That You Might Hear Me’. Describing a crisis of confidence, the song has a hymn-like quality, with its anthemic refrain – “You don’t have to be lonely alone/I could be there in a heartbeat/Lonely alone”.

‘Berlin’ explored personal loss in a momentous setting with ‘Elysium’ following, the trumpeters taking the heraldic instrumental sections and remaining onstage for most of the evening. Davie moved to piano for the quieter ‘Loneliness’ from the new EP ‘White Magnolias’, again with accompaniment from the horns.

Photo by Chas Lacey

After these sombre subjects, an amusing introduction to ‘The Star of Bethnal Green’ brought light relief. Forming part of what Davie termed a Christmas trilogy, and taking the name of an actual east London pub, the song’s religious imagery and carol-like sentiment had the feel of inspirational music – “But Love, I’m alive/And maybe the Star of Bethnal Green/Could lead us back to Bethlehem”. Completing the Christmas trilogy were ‘Son of the Falling Snow’ and then the aptly-titled ‘Longhope’, a real place as in many of Davie’s songs, this one inspired by a family home visit.

Photo by Chas Lacey

Christof van der Ven’s banjo was to the fore on ‘Her Tears’, with the plaintive refrain “I won’t be coming home tonight/I won’t be coming home” sung a capella, appropriately for this chapel setting. A string quartet then took their places in front of the stone pulpit, playing gorgeous arrangements on ‘Isaac’ and ‘Evelyn’, with the trumpets joining them for ‘Crow’ and ‘All That You Are’ before a stirring ‘Above the Clouds of Pompeii’ closed the show.

The encore was something special, with Davie, Jones and van der Ven stepping out front for an unamplified ‘Agape’ before returning to the stage for a rousing finale featuring several guests, among them Will and Nick from Flyte, in a tender version of Yazoo’s ‘Only You’. It was quite a night.

Photo by Chas Lacey

About Chas Lacey 11 Articles
My musical journey has taken me from Big Pink to southern California. Life in the fast lane now has a sensible 20mph limit which leaves more time for listening to new music and catching live shows.
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