Tuesday 1st October 2019
Courtyard Theatre Studio, London
Following Iamthemorning's August release of their new studio album 'The Bell', to worldwide praise from media and fans alike, the Russian duo, comprising of virtuoso classical pianist Gleb Kolyadin and charismatic vocalist Marjana Semkina, not only supported its release last month touring Europe with Riverside, but also with this headline show last Tuesday at London's Courtyard Theatre Studio, plus another the following night at Maastricht's Intro In Situ in Holland. Generally described as "Chamber Prog" or "Chamber Progressive Rock", the Russian, Saint Petersburg duo, formed in 2010, their name taken from the song 'I Am the Morning' from Oceansize's debut release, 'Effloresce'. Their first release in 2012 was the curiously named '~', followed by the success of their next two studio albums for Kscope - 'Belighted', the award winning 'Lighthouse' and their most recent live studio film 'Ocean Sounds'. Iamthemorning’s dedication to writing forward-thinking and thought-provoking music has seen them create a new album of impressive depth and playability. 'The Bell' is a modern blend of Rock, Classical and Folk, making use of 19th Century song cycles - a style established by Schubert - that cohesively tells ten individual stories.
Other than a very brief encounter at a wet Ramblin' Man Fair Prog Stage in July 2017, this was only the second time I had seen them live, and once again it was pissing down as I walked out of Old Street tube to find the Courtyard Theatre, apparently just a five minute walk away. After eventually finding the venue, soaking wet, I managed to buy a beer from the very friendly bar staff before venturing into the sold out venue, where it was literally standing room only, with the early arrivals cunningly grabbing the cheap seats down the front. Indeed it was sweltering, as Saint Petersburg's finest duo, promptly made their way on to the stage, accompanied by their percussionist and cello player.
Not unexpectedly, this was going to be a night very similar to their aforementioned 'Ocean Sounds' unplugged sessions, and indeed, barring 'The Bell', their set consisted mainly of that 2018 live set. One could not already help being immediately captivated by the bare footed Marjana, with her flowing red locks contrasting against her white address, as she appropriately grabbed her flower adorned mic stand for 'Scotland' (think The Pineapple Thief) from '~', with her partner in crime, Gleb behind her, not being outdone with fairy lights on his Nord keyboard! "It's nice to be back" Semkina greeted the crowd, apologising for the cancellation of their last Union Chapel gig when she couldn't get a visa, but delighted everyone with the news that she now has a residents permit! The tattooed Marjana also delighted us with the beautiful Chamber Pop of 'To Human Misery' from 'Belighted', with its glittered accompanying percussionist already inspiring a few wobbly heads in the audience to move from side to side. The fact that, as Marjana put it, that their songs are mostly about "dead girls and dying people", belied her smile at the end of '~'s masterpiece 'Touching II', her sweet vocals, complemented now by the addition of some exquisite acoustic guitar.
For the sake of German/Russian relations, Semkina dedicated the quirky 'Matches', with Kolyadin's outstanding bar room piano vibe, to Germany's Riverside fans! This was the first of three songs taken from 'Lighthouse' which won Album of the Year at the 2016 Progressive Music Awards, the others being the Mike Oldfield/Steven Wilson influenced eargasm 'Sleeping Pills' plus 'Libretto Horror' - Marjana sitting down on the stage after her Enya like vocal, admiring the band's intense tango feel outro. It was now time to debut the new album. In fact, to be precise, they played 80% of 'The Bell', beginning with the gorgeous, artful, haunting, powerful and melancholic 'Freak Show', which, understandably, was well received by the very hot, but appreciative audience. Semkina covered her eyes to see into said crowd, before her sweet vocal hit the spot on 'Sleeping Beauty', which melded into 'Blue Sea', which saw Marjana picking up her acoustic guitar for the first time, consequently dueting with her guitarist on this stunningly beautiful composition.
Almost half way through the set and we were already running out of superlatives! Tenuous link of the night was Semkina's admission that she again believed that she had made a grave mistake offending Riverside's Nuremburg fans! "Talking of graves ..." she said - cue Kolyadin's mesmerising keys on the breathtaking 'Six Feet', followed by the slightly more up-tempo 'Ghost Of A Story', further proof, if you needed it, not only of their prowess as musicians and writers/composers, but also, as Marjana again sat down on the stage, of her parallels with, dare I say it, Kate Bush, as both a vocalist and performer. The duo solely took the spotlight for 'Lillies', a track that Marjana introduced as a 'weird one", which saw her take another well deserved drinks break on the floor, as Gleb's awesome keys solo had me thinking of the much missed Emerson, Kolyadin reassuringly confirming to me that Keith was indeed one of his major influences after the show.
Semkina's bombshell "that we are all going to die" was softened by the fact she meant that we are all going to die in the end but not tonight! Cue their two final tracks from 'The Bell', that saw Marjana, picking up her acoustic guitar again on the fantastic instrumentation on the Russian vibe of 'Salute', plus the spiritual beauty of the title track, and Gleb and Marjana's delicate, delightful duet. Belissimo! At last - from dead girls and misery - to the only interactively happy song on the night - 'Belighted's '5/4' - the Iamthemorning faithful needing no prompting (think The Pineapple Thief's 'Snowdrops') as when to clap along to this gorgeous waltz of a track - with Semkina once again demonstrating her captivating theatrics. Following Marjana's inevitable merch plug, plus that she couldn't see her set list, it was back to the subject of misery and 'Chalk and Coal'. Another from the award winning 'Lighthouse' album - that originally featured Porcupine Tree's Gavin Harrison on drums and Colin Edwin on bass -this was proof that less is sometimes more given its jazzy harmonies and awesome cello.
Marjana thankfully avoided mentioning the dreaded 'B' word as she introduced the last song of the set, 'Belighted's 'K.O.S'. Similarly, despite originally being a very acoustic, little heavy, Progressive Rock track, there was no loss of depth on its powerful construction, on this incredible unplugged arrangement, as testified by the audiences rapturous applause as the band took their deserved bow, stepped behind the curtain and went out of the back door. Very showbiz and very funny. Of course they returned for two encores, to complete their ninety minute set, with both tracks taken from 'Belighted'. Apparently, there's no truth in the fact that the band are doing a residency at Disneyland's Phantom Manor, as Marjana announced that "We don't do love songs", even though 'Romance was beautiful, whilst the last "dead girl" song of the night, the raw and powerful 'Os Lunatum', built to a great climax, a microcosm truly befitting a memorable set. Despite the weather outside and the heat inside - definitely a musical evening of from Russia with love!