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Cast your mind back a bit; December 2018…..It’s a rainy and bitterly cold night in the dark heart of old Dublin as I wait for the first of my 3 dates on the Tess Parks tour to promote her latest album, simply called ‘Tess Parks and Anton Newcombe’. I’ve never seen Tess before although I’m familiar with her recorded material and attending the 3 dates was a sudden snap decision; sometimes you’ve just got to follow those urges so here we are…
It becomes apparent that Tess Parks and her band do things their own way, starting with an extra melancholy ‘Someday’, slower than the album version, they build the atmosphere with shimmering crystalline guitar, vocals deep and bluesy and then ease into an expansive wide open guitar solo. ‘Cocaine Cat’ follows; the perfect quirky pop song, Tess husky and other worldly as always and the whole thing strangely triumphant and uplifting. I already love this sound and 3 dates on the tour just doesn’t seem enough. ‘French Monday Afternoon’ is the weirder tripped out sister to ‘Cocaine Cat’ with its distinctive otherworldly keyboards; evocative and stirring hazy time-bleached memories. It’s that type of gig, that type of sound that you need to immerse yourself in it and let your mind wander. Tess and her band will feed your head and then it’s up to you where your mind takes you.
‘Mt Pleasant’ ‘Life Is But A Dream’ ‘German Tangerine’ and ‘Monochrome World’ follow and things get even deeper and denser; a stoned and laid back feel which is aided for all 3 dates by the dominance of the red stage lighting. Under this blood moon glow the atmosphere feels humid and dense and intimate; blues spiked psychedelic rock with the band inviting you in to their inner space to witness them jamming in their own musical world, we’re cocooned, far removed from the outside world. Which is a relief, as for all 3 dates the weather is verging on apocalyptic.
Tess is obviously the main focus of attention but it always feels like a full band show not just a singer with a backing band. Her voice, unique as it is, is naturally husky and low and isn’t overbearing or too dominant and the band members: Ruari Meehan guitar, Rian O’Gandy drums, Mike Sutton guitar, Francesco Perini keys, and Matthew Robert Oliver bass are given the time and space to express themselves which they clearly enjoy doing and which Tess clearly enjoys letting them do. At times she will move to the side of the stage and let the band do their thing, just accompanying on tambourine and engrossed in the sound.
The band change gear for recent single ‘Please Never Die’, a hip-shaking tambourine bashing swagger of a song with a great vintage 60s sounding keyboard freakout. It’s back to the first album ‘Blood Hot’ then for ‘Love Around’ which continues the groove, heavier, rockier and loaded with busy drums. ‘Grunewald’ appeared on the ‘Right On’ EP and it’s a driving, pulsing track that sees Tess and the band really letting go and right now I could watch them play all night. ‘Right On’ finishes the set and it’s a beautiful song; a life-affirming and triumphant end to the night, vocals sublime and dreamy and the whole band sounding epic.
After Dublin, I catch them at Bristol Rough Trade and the tour closing sell out Acid Box Promotions night at the Hope and Ruin, one of my favourite venues. All three performances are memorable; potent magick being weaved in the scarlet reptile house glow. Tess is a unique presence seemingly fragile at first but growing quickly into the set each night and getting steadily more animated. The band are tight and great to watch as they immerse themselves in the music; music is sweeping in it’s scope with the lyrics seeming – without wishing to start analysing in depth – to be personal and spiritual but quietly resistant; an overall feel of epic existential psychedelia.
The tour ends in Brighton and we’re treated to an encore; true to form it’s not an instantly recognisable track from the back catalogue but instead a subdued almost hymn-like folk-blues number called ‘Can The Circle Be Unbroken’ which after a bit of digging around I discover was indeed a folk song adapted from a hymn. That one rattles around my head in a spectral form on the long drive home and I’m already thinking of when I can catch them live again. Although Anton Newcombe – a man who has more ideas in a week than most of us have in a decade – doesn’t take part in this tour his presence is felt in the music which fits nicely into the Brian Jonestown Massacre universe and adds to the vast body of work that he has built up.
Before these dates, I wasn’t sure how the band would translate his music in his absence, but they made it their own and although it doesn’t sound like a carbon copy of the albums I didn’t for one-second wish it was different.
If you like your psychedelia strung out and on the darker, more thoughtful side you’ll love seeing Tess Parks. The sound is densely layered, swampy and murky and multi-textured with Tess’s voice, smoky and cool, another instrument within that sound. The band drag you into their world with their performance and Tess is a mesmerising frontwoman, most definitely doing her own thing in her own way and doing it with real poise and style.
My sights right now are firmly set on Eindhoven for the Fuzz Club festival where I’m delighted to say, Tess Parks will be one of the headline acts on the Saturday.
Words: Gary Powell for Enjoy Yourself!
Images (from Brighton): Dave Taylor for Enjoy Yourself!