With her name on many a taste-maker’s lips as being one of the emerging stars of 2016, Rosie Lowe made her much-anticipated return to Brighton in the week that saw her finally release her debut album Control.
The 25-year-old from Devon was playing an intimate show in an even more intimate room…above a pub. The Hope and Ruin may not be the most salubrious of venues for someone who just the day before had walked the red carpet at the Tate Britain for the Elle Style Awards. Tall and with modelesque features, she looked the part. Wearing a short black shift dress with zip details, she could have stepped off the catwalk. Fittingly, she was fashionably late taking the stage.
Given the James Blake-like layering of her vocals, it was always going to be interesting how she would recreate the atmospheric sound of her album. Although she was supported by a trio of musicians (keyboards, drums and bass) and she sang live, the answer to the question came from a set of pads next to her mic stand. She uses no less than three: one to process her live vocals, another to change her pitch and a third for triggering samples. Clearly, for Rosie her voice is her instrument.
Now vocal purists may scorn at the use of such electronic aids, but it’s really no different from what guitarists do with the multitude of foot-operated pedals which alter the sound of their instrument. And of course, whether controlling different effects with her finger or triggering her own backing vocals, she is doing it live which in itself takes some skill. But enough of the technology, what’s important is how the music sounds, not how it’s created. With Rosie it’s all about the multi-layered vocals and the distinctive way she sings her songs.
She begins about as low key as she can with a song that’s not even on her album. Me And Your Ghost is a curious choice and if I’m honest not one that made for the best of starts. Fortunately, things change when she moves up a gear with the next song, Worry ‘Bout Us, which is one of her best and would have made a far better first impression. As indeed would have her next song, Run, Run, Run. Not surprisingly, she played almost every track from Control — already for many a contender for best debut album of the year — in her thirteen-song set. The need to trigger so much during the songs, does restrict her movement onstage as she can’t venture far from her pads.
As a glimpse into the future, this understated show provided a hint as to how a Rosie Lowe performance might evolve. In truth, it won’t take much for her to take it to another level. A bigger stage and a stylish light show will add the atmosphere that elevates any artist’s performance and some artistic graphics on a set of LED screens would provide some much needed visual interest to her songs.
For me, the night’s two standouts were Woman and How’d You Like It? which show two sides of Rosie’s songwriting. Woman is all about her lyrics and her phrasing. An unashamedly feminist ballad, lyrically the song explores her own insecurity — “I have analysed every single inch of my skin / And comparisons I can’t seem to break in my daily routine / I found myself obsessive with imperfections that only I see.” — while musically, it explores her love of textures. Put the two together and it’s no wonder why to many ears, it already sounds like a classic. How’d You Like It? is also rich in swirling musical and vocal textures, but this time set to a beat you can dance to. I couldn’t put it any better than Rolling Stone who described her music as being both “densely layered and judiciously sparse.”
As much as I love her original versions, I have to say I prefer the remixes of her songs that add tempo and additional instrumentation even more. Ewan Pearson’s wonderful remix of Worry About Us with its pulsating bass and skittering beats being a great example of how easily Rosie could energise her live performance.
Of course one has to remember she’s still finding her feet as an artist and that this was her very first headline tour. I’ve no doubt she has what it takes. She crafts intelligent songs that touch people with emotional lyrics, she has a distinctive voice and the beginnings of an equally distinctive sound.
Lyrically and vocally Rosie Lowe has a voice that needs to be heard. In many ways she is the epitome of a thoroughly modern musician, singing about contemporary subjects and utilising new technology to create her sound. I can also confidently predict the next time she plays Brighton, it won’t be in a room above a pub!
Words: Gary Marlowe
Photo: Images Out Of The Ordinary
Follow Rosie at @rosielowemusic
Rosie’s debut album Control is out now