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Hannah Wicklund + Dead Writers

Tuesday 21st November 2023

Camden Assembly, London

I have a confession to make: this was the most anticipated follow-up gig in this year’s Wrinkly Rockers Calendar. I had first seen Hannah Wicklund and the Stepping Stones, completely blind at Islington's O2 Academy in the latter part of 2019 and was unexpectedly drawn in by her evocation of the Woodstock Spirit. As someone who played Jim Hendrix continuously in their teenage years, I got quite carried away by the guitar playing of the 22-year-old “Hannah Hendrix”: her parents, manning the merch table, dubbed her that when she was developing from a child prodigy.

She opens with the single 'Hell is a Hallway', her latest release which is more Poppier and polished offering but with glimpses of her trademark Southern Psychedelia, no doubt Greta Van Fleet’s Sam Kiszka as a producer has imparted a significant influence. Hannah’s ever-present artistic watermark is on her design of the single’s sleeve.

But as The Who famously sang “…a change it had to come”, with her new album 'The Prize', Hannah seems to go through some life-changing events: the break-up off her first relationship and also the break-up of the Stepping Stones by the looks of things, which seemed to have brought about a more introspective approach. The new album is more inclined to soulful and Country-tinged balladry such as on the recent single, 'Witness', reveals a voice of yearning, but also new-found maturity. Here the music is more piano-led and may account for the complete replacement of band personnel.

Choosing her set-list wisely she then continues in this vein and pushes her voice further with the Stepping Stones track 'Shadow Boxes and Porcelain Faces', a mournful song about the falsity of social media and perhaps the trappings of fame. Again, we witness the remarkable timbres Hanna’s voice has evolved and creating an incredible intimacy with the completely hushed crowd.

Which brings me to the venue, given her seemingly newfound recognition, it seemed an odd decision upon a small area which felt claustrophobia-inducingly full by the end. Perhaps this was because the choice of support was another cultish but altogether varying in tone support act, Dead Writers. Delivering a set of Glam-inspired Gothic Rock, they covered a song by The Waterboys, and at one point started to pass the mic around for the ultimate in audience participation and proved the relatively long queue outside the venue was worth it in the end.

Just a quick shout out to a cosy record bar across the road (Spiritual Records) who did a wonderful open-mic acoustic session for wannabe acts, that I caught before the show. Keep those Spiced Rums and Ginger Ales coming!

Ivan De Mello

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