Lucy Valentine @ Springtij Festival 3, Haarlem, Netherlands, March 15, 2024

Lucy Valentine

Lucy Valentine @ Springtij Festival 3, Haarlem, Netherlands, March 15, 2024,

Mar 19, 2024

Photography by Springtij Festival
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Sometimes there are gigs that you really want to go to, but just can’t. Tonight was one of them. Lucy Valentine was playing in Haarlem, Netherlands, as part of the Springtij Festival 3. I sadly didn’t have the financial, spiritual, ethical or moral reserves to attend the festival. Luckily, the gig was being streamed live. Though the rest of the line-up was pretty great. Pascal Plantinga, Carmen Jaci and Leonie Roessler. Not that shabby at all, right?

I logged on a few minutes early, just in case things were ahead of schedule. They weren’t. This gave me a chance to check out the stage. The set was dressed sparsely. Valentine sat with the guitar across her knees. The backdrop featured floor to ceiling curtains. These were illuminated by a blue light. This conjured up memories of David Lynch. The chilling classic Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks Red Room immediately came to mind. It created a chilling image in my mind. The night’s MC introduced Valentine in Dutch. At one point he said, jokingly, “She can’t understand us anyway” to which Valentine looked up from her seat and laughed.

The set started with Valentine bowing the saddle section of her electric guitar. Sometimes notes were played, others not. Volume and tone knobs were moved. The sound changed slightly, but the mood stayed the same. The results were awe inspiring. These haunting sounds were then looped to create gargantuan drones. Oppressive, claustrophobic and dank was the order of the day. At various points church bells rang. I wasn’t sure if this was intentional or not, it probably was, but the effect added another layer of reverence to the proceedings. The music picked up pace and the maelstroms of noise became more and more concentric. As the set continued, so did the bowing. About halfway through the bowing stopped. It took a while for the drones to catch up and die. Valentine then finger picked the guitar conventionally. This section was the most beautiful of the set. It offered a slight respite. And here Valentine flexed her musical muscles. The finger picking had a slight folk tinge to them, but played through her electric guitar and an array of unseen pedals, the notes took on an edge that made them sound both sinister and warming. Valentine’s playing was fluid, technically hypnotic, and most of all, bags of fun. You could tell she was enjoying this section of the set. Recently she has learnt to play the lute, and this has only improved her playing. I was so swept up in the tender beauty of the music I almost forgot to breathe. Under this achingly beautiful music the drones kept playing out, until they stopped. At this point Valentine started knifing her guitar strings in gentle circles. At first it was tender, almost inaudible, but as the cycles repeated and repeated and skewed, they started to get heavier and more abrasive until there was a wall of noise and confusion. Then the music stopped. Valentine put down her guitar and it was all over. The crowd exploded in a round of applause. I was also clapping at home. Much to my neighbours’ bemusement, I’d imagine.

Throughout the set the vision mixer cut between three cameras. A long shot, showing the seated front row of the audience, one from the side that allowed us to see what Valentine was doing in more detail and one that was from behind her. The camera mostly stayed on the side shot, as that was where all the heavy lifting was going on, but cutting between the three did give a sense of flux that suited the music.

The downside to watching this live, as opposed to being there, is you miss some of the dynamic nature of the set. Gone is the heat from the speakers. The smell of the curtains. No talking to people at the show. And the sheer volume that the set reached live. The pros were that after watching I was already at home, so I didn’t have to worry about transportation to not get back at silly o’clock. Of course I would rather have been there, but as the gig was taking place in another country, I was happy enough to watch it live. If the gig had been a few miles down the road I might have felt differently about steaming it, instead of heading out.

Lucy Valentine is one of the most interesting and innovative guitarists in the UK at the moment. She doesn’t play the guitar like anyone else I’ve seen or heard. It was great to see her play live so I could see exactly what she was doing to get those sounds, because usually I’m left scratching my head. Her latest album, 2023’s ‘Vaults of Heaven’, featured mellotrons and a liberal dose of drone. It was glorious. Sadly, not very practical to perform live, but this was the next best thing. If you are a fan of experimental music, I implore you to check out Valentine if she ever plays in your town. You won’t be disappointed.

At the end of the show, I sat contemplating what I’d just witnessed. Then I closed down my laptop and 30-seconds later I was in my living room and back into the fray to normal life. While I missed out on a wonderful live experience, I’ll take that commute time to get home again.

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