Review | Aldous Harding is as captivating and curious as ever

Aldous Harding | Chevron Lighthouse | 28th February 2020 | ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ 

Years ago I met Aldous Harding for the first time when she played at the Perth Festival. We met in the studios at RTRFM to talk about her self titled debut album that had been released a year earlier. 

I’d was a record I’d grown in love with and I was intrigued by the incongruous sounds and images. The cover featured Harding wearing a trucker cap, it screamed indie country, but once you played the CD you were treated to a collection of folk tunes that sounded timeless. The guitar based tunes sounded like Harding had been lost on an English moor. 

We chatted about her decision to name herself Aldous, she explained Aldous was a public persona that the audience could have, but Hannah the woman behind the moniker was always going to be kept private. We chatted about how she was discovered busking in New Zealand, and how much she hated talking about what her songs were about. 

In the studio Harding played one of her songs. Having an artist play in a radio studio is always surreal, usually you’re the only audience member. It usually feels odd, but having Aldous Harding play just for you was otherworldly. After our interview she gave me a copy of her album on vinyl. 

Later that night she played at the Perth Festival, appearing as a support act for Perfume Genius. Her mindblowing performance included a rendition of Edith Piaf’s Non, je ne regrette rien which still rates as one of the best performances I’ve ever seen. 

A few years later we chatted again when she released her second album. In 2017 Harding delivered Party which saw her collaborate with PJ Harvey’s longtime producer John Parish. Now her music had transformed, no more with the folk sounds, Aldous Harding now had beats, bass and a sound that enveloped the audience.

Since then she’s re-teamed with Parish for 2019’s Designer, an album that has received high critical praise. So when she took to the stage once more for the Perth Festival on Friday night it was intriguing to see how her music, her performance and her fans have changed over the intervening five years. 

While half-a-decade ago Harding had a scattering of fans in Perth, on Friday night it was a sell-out show at the Chevron Lighthouse and her supporters were out in full force.

She took to the stage alone to perform Living the Classics, but was soon joined by a full band who launched into the title track from her most recent work, before moving on to Treasure. 

“I don’t speak much.” Harding told the crowd, “The music is my offering.” Staying true to her word the artist hardly spoke to the audience again throughout the show but presented them with a succession of stunning performances. 

Fixture Picture was followed by Elation, the stand alone single that was recorded during the Party sessions, but didn’t make it on to the final album. 

In between each song Harding would pause and wait, not playing until she was ready. The awkward silences adding to the quirkliness of her performance. When she wasn’t playing her guitar she’d begin moving, more expressive movement than dance. 

The Barrel was one of the shows many highlights, alongside What If Birds Aren’t Singing They’re Screaming, and she joined her keyboard player to duet at the keyboard for an extended and mesmerising version of Damn.

The show came to a conclusion with Blend which showed the amazing range and power of Harding’s voice unleashed. There were no bows, Harding and her band just stared at the crowd for a moment before leaving. Rapturous applause soon brought them back for an encore of Imaging My Man and the upbeat Old Peel – a new song that is not on any of her records.   

Five years down the track Aldous Harding still doesn’t like to talk about her music, but the music she creates is excitingly unique, original and fascinating to listen to. The songs from that first record have been discarded for newer work and her sound has grown and evolved considerably. If her latest offering Old Peel is a sample of where Aldous Harding is headed next, I can’t wait for album number 4.

Graeme Watson, images by NuShade. 

The Perth Festival music program wraps up on Sunday night with a performance from Gospel singer Mavis Staples.                

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