Refinement in Unlikely Places


Emanuel and the Fear 4th April 2010 Dulcimer, Manchester, England

Easter Sunday, the time of nails and wood, and the singular emptiness of a Sabbath Bank Holiday stretches ahead, a hollow prediction rung true. An email informs that a band, Emanuel and the Fear, will be playing Dulcimer, a minute's walk away. There's eleven of them, a mini orchestra, so things will be a little cramped on the venue's tiny stage. As they've come from New York, and the other alternatives are of the four walls at home variety, it really is the best offer of a quiet day.

The venue is busy, but they're not here for the music. They are merely living it up with a day off to recover. It seems to be a last-minute affair, penciled in before the band head off for a European tour, a single poster advertising what is happening upstairs. Emanuel Ayvas resembles a young Al Kooper beneath his dark mop of curls, and with his fellow cohorts creates an eclectic presence. Genial and engaging, he is a natural leader of his disparate crew. There are six of them tonight, an absence of five, but the economy of space cannot be ignored. They spark into action, and their noise is a proggy classicism, flute-led by Nic Cowles, suggesting Jethro Tull at their earliest and best. There are about forty in the crowd, and the poetic grandeur of the music makes a brave stance against the background chatter. The influences range from Rufus Wainwright to Phillip Glass, Beethoven to Antony. A moody eloquence pervades, and one is left wishing for a more appropriate setting, one uninterrupted by the endless traffic of bodies to the toilets upstairs. Their cello-driven songs echo another similar project now sadly, largely forgotten. Esperanto made three amazing albums on A&M in the early '70s; they dropped the Rock Orchestra tag after the first. Emanuel and the Fear plow the same meadow of pastoral progressiveness. Violin enhances the sense of classicism, and lends the proceedings an air of concert hall seriousness. All too soon they play themselves into silence.

They have an album, Listen, out in a few days. so the future is well aspected for Emanuel and the Fear. Their epic intentions were poorly served by tonight's compromised setting and the absence of grand piano. Arriving as a novice, I left a convert, and I wasn't the only one. Long may they continue to bestow their refinement in unlikely places.