Sara Rees visits The Trinity venue in Bristol to revel in a live performance by Bonnie Prince Billy and Trembling Bells.
To some, he is the undisputed king; to others, he’s unknown. Over the past 20 years Will Oldham aka Bonnie Prince Billy has produced as many albums, acquiring cult status for his prolific and unique musical output. Tinged with melancholic grace and sung with disarming fragility, he brings us intimate tales of wayward love and the peregrinations, trials and tribulations of the soul. In Marble Downs we see the genre-
There is, in fact, already a bit of history here. Drummer and founder of Trembling Bells Alex Neilson, an extremely talented singer and songwriter himself was previously drummer for Bonnie Prince Billy. I first saw Glasgow-
Seen live, the pairing of Blackwell and Oldham seems an unlikely one. Her polished glamour and composure next to his shambolic scruffiness was wonderfully, even comically, incongruous. But their voices work beautifully together –
Here, as elsewhere on Marble Downs there is a deliciously dark humour at play, the lyrics of what are largely duets penned with mirth and mischief. This is such great material for the two vocalists to play up to live, which would have been great fun for us and for them. But the Prince’s eccentric and exuberant prances and glances were lost on Levinia. Whilst it’s only fair to mention that she was playing either keyboard or guitar throughout as well as singing, I suspect this lack of eye contact, with him and with us, is down to shyness. As audience, we don’t necessarily expect eye contact from all members of a live band but it’s an important part of the role of front-
This is really my only criticism of what was a fantastically thrilling night of powerful, tumultuous, romantic, wildly inventive and accomplished psychedelic folk rock, with dizzyingly rich instrumentation, imaginative compositions and melodies referencing more musical styles that you can count on two hands and your toes too. This is an inspired collaboration that fans of Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy will relish as a welcome change in tempo and style for him. For those new to Trembling Bells, I would recommend starting with The Great Pageant before moving on to Marble Downs. Both are released on Honest Jon’s Records.