We are in the height of summer and I feel like I’m in a sticky southern scene from a Tennessee Williams play. Clutching my razor clam (the gig stamp for the night), I purchase a can of beer from the makeshift cake stand/bar and head straight for the cool stone walls of St Pancras Old Church. As the inner doors open I’m greeted by a massive light display and clouds of atmospheric warm smoke, not the chilled church air I was expecting.
Tonight I am here to watch The Sea & I, knowing nothing of their music I am intrigued as to what the evening holds. Founded by Irwin Sparkes and Paul Frith, The Sea & I describe themselves as ‘an ever changing phalanx of musicians’.
The audience are a nice smiley bunch, who appear to either be related to or at least friends with someone whose performing. The girl in front of me is wearing a red ‘The Hoosiers’ t-shirt, a homage to Irwin’s earlier musical days.
The ‘phalanx of musicians’ playing with The Sea & I this evening are the London Contemporary Voices choir and London Chamber Brass. The evening starts with the 10-strong brass band playing a piece by Roger Harvey, followed by Henry VIII’s ‘Past Times with Good Company’. Faces bursting with concentration, the talented LCB perform in front of the altar, with the building’s acoustics enhancing the music further.
After a short interval, the background music is cut and a blue hue descends over the church. A beer can hisses open, breaking the silence, as the band walk out to the sounds of the Shipping Forecast playing through the speakers. A nice touch.
Frith on keyboards and Sparkes on guitar, are joined by musicians on bass, drums and strings. Large stage lights loom in the background with soft white light travelling up and down Tetris style as they begin. The intense rigging of swivelling spot lights is almost blinding at points, with audience members shielding their eyes from the glare, but it softens as the music takes over and Irwin, staring wide eyed, sings into the audience.
Their second song ‘Improve’ is from their self-titled EP which has just been released. This is a great song, immediately memorable and truly overwhelming in the acoustics of the church.
During ‘Balloon’ Firth looks up, eyes closed, with his heavy walrus whiskered face, sweat dripping from his fringe. The passion and energy that he exudes is unquestionable and a pleasure to watch. The song is met with loud applause and encouragement. As this falls away, we hear the gentle sound of the London Contemporary Voices choir descending down from the organ balcony, the beginning of ‘Judas I Sympathise’ performed a capella in Latin. Firth sings out from the stage, the thickness of his vocals and the angelic sounds from above work in complete harmony and I note a few tears from the audience.
As ‘Broken’ begins the choir walk down the aisle towards the alter singing. The sopranos’ high voices break through the dense sounds and surround the audience as fairground lights dance around the stage. The Sea & I finish the evening with ‘Mutineer’, a crescendo of music and open mouths. And now it’s the crowd’s turn to fill the tented roof of St Pancras Old Church with applause.
Ambitious in parts, The Sea & I’s performance tonight was jam packed with instruments, lights, people and smoke. At points their vocals were lost to this ocean of sound, but they are only at the beginning of their musical journey and are showing great promise already. A genuine performance, curated as if it had been in a stadium, enchanting because it was a church.