Live review

Pulled By Magnets + Ben Vince at St John on Bethnal Green (2019 EFG LJF)

Pulled By Magnets + Ben Vince
(St John on Bethnal Green. EFG London Jazz Festival. 20 November 2019. Review by Richard Lee)

I’m quite wary of church gigs. I like that they’re repurposing a building (often with the devil’s music) but generally, unless it’s plainsong in Latin so I don’t have to try and understand the words, or a single sax and/or swelling organ, the boomy acoustic doesn’t work for me.

I was therefore delighted to find that the sound in St John at Bethnal Green was surprisingly good. Resonant but not echoey and above all, warm; which was in stark contrast to the chill that pervaded the church itself. They’d done their best to replace the failed boiler with a few electric space heaters but the struggle was in vain. However, as Ben Vince commenced his solo set, blowing long tones on his tenor to be looped at the keyboard and various boxes he initially fumbled at, I was put in mind of an alpine horn and subsequently, as tones layered, of bagpipes.

Vince soon got into his stride, setting up rhythmic and melodic motifs, driven by sometimes fearsome basslines but the sense of communion and indeed penance in the chill of the night seemed to hang over the set. I’m probably old school in wanting anyone on a platform with a sax to impress me with virtuosity of some kind, where here it seemed to be used merely as a tone generator. That said, the 45-minute set built up to its climax, an impressive wall of Bannockburn sound that almost dispelled the chill. Almost…

A blurred Pete Wareham before a station of the cross. Phone snap by Richard Lee.

Headlining were Pulled by Magnets, percussionist and experimentalist Seb Rochford‘s new trio, reuniting him with long term collaborator Pete Wareham (Acoustic Ladyland, Polar Bear) on tenor sax and Neil Charles (Zed-U, Empirical, Tomorrow’s Warrior) on bass. There is a new single and album (details below). This is majestic stuff, using electronica to enhance the depth and sonority of drums, sax and bass but always giving each musician full rein. There’s a kind of symphonic feel to the work, and the church was a perfect setting for it.

At the heart is Rochford’s beautifully made and sounding kit. Like one of those sports cars with a matte finish, it seems to be of a different class, befitting Seb’s constantly fresh, technically adept playing. His innate gentleness is almost at odds with the massive power with which he propels the work – I haven’t experienced that since Bobby Previte took no prisoners in Cheltenham once… At the same time, he can play with a delicate intricacy.

Wareham’s sax wailed with his characteristic assertiveness to the heights of the nave, but he also whispered low, the most measured I’ve ever heard from him. Charles’ bass took as powerful a lead role with thrumming melodic lines often transformed by electronics to sounds and lines beyond the bass. Another climactic set with a stirring rhythmic drive to a thunderous coda, it ended in a monk-like stillness. If Ben Vince had evoked a highland battle for me, Pulled by Magnets conjured up the soundtrack to Paradise Lost, glimpsing heaven and hell and all stations inbetween.

I don’t have a set list, so the three long numbers they played may well have segued into more distinct pieces. I know the finalé was the single Invite Them In and I look forward to it topping the charts this Christmas. Now look – that’s reminded me me of the cold again…

Regrouping afterwards in the bar next door, I was struck by the young audience the gig attracted. Remy Grimes, Regan Bavering and Louise Taylor showed an enthusiasm for both sets that they were keen was mentioned in my notes and promised to subscribe to the LJN site and newsletter if I did…

Pulled by Magnets’ debut album Rose Golden Doorways will be released by Glitterbeat label imprint tak:til on 28 February 2020. The first Pulled by Magnets release is the single Invite Them In; the digital single is out now on tak:til.

4 replies »

  1. For the record their debut gig was actually about a year ago, also in a church, also in London, and they have played at least once since then, at the Late Junction festival.

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